Palaniswami to take floor test in Tamil Nadu assembly today, Panneerselvam reaches out to AIADMK MLAs
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Palaniswami to take floor test in Tamil Nadu assembly today, Panneerselvam reaches out to AIADMK MLAs

Two rival camps in Tamil Nadu’s ruling party are braced for an assembly trust vote on Saturday as experts indicated chief minister E Palaniswami’s wafer-thin majority and several unhappy legislators could upset calculations.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2017 07:19 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Tamil Nadu,Palaniswami,O Panneerselvam
Palaniswami – a loyalist of AIADMK chief VK Sasikala - took oath as chief minister as Panneerselvam has been buoyed by the opposition DMK grouping.(PTI/ HT Photo)

Two warring camps in Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK party are braced for a trust vote in the state assembly on Saturday, as experts indicated chief minister E Palaniswami’s wafer-thin majority could upset calculations and give another twist to the ongoing political drama in the state.

The day began with a jolt for Palaniswami – a loyalist of AIADMK chief VK Sasikala who took oath as chief minister only a day ago – with former state police chief and MLA R Nataraj switching sides to former chief minister O Panneerselvam’s camp.

“I took this decision listening to the views of my voters,” said the Mylapore legislator, who was not among the 120-odd MLAs lodged in the high-security luxury resort outside Chennai.

The revolt appeared to upset Palaniswami’s calculations as he cancelled a visit to Sasikala – serving a four-year-jail term in Bengaluru’s Parappana Agrahara prison – and rushed to the resort to pacify MLAs. Several legislators are restive after not making it to the 30-member council of ministers, sources said.

A senior member of Sasikala’s camp said there would be no more defections but Panneerselvam – who has 11 lawmakers on his side – appeared confident.

“More MLAs will switch sides and you will see the government falling,” said Panneerselvam loyalist and former state education minister M Foi Pandiarajan. His camp was boosted by an internal report that “some MLAs are ready to cross over”.

Late in the evening, Panneerselvam made a last-ditch attempt to woo AIADMK lawmakers. “Please vote against the trust vote and uphold Amma’s interests,” he told reporters.

Panneerselvam has been buoyed by the opposition DMK grouping – DMK, Congress and Indian Union Muslim League – deciding to vote against the government. The Opposition has 98 MLAs.

Supporters of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) party celebrate in front of the residence of O Panneerselvam in Tamil Nadu in Chennai on February 14, 2017. (AFP Photo)

On Saturday, the assembly’s effective strength will come down from 234 to 231 -- The late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s seat is vacant, ailing DMK chief M Karunanidhi won’t be present and speaker P Dhanapal cannot vote unless a tie occurs. So, the new majority mark is 116.

Palaniswami had submitted a list of 124 MLAs to the governor on Thursday but now has 123 lawmakers – just seven more than majority. Panneerselvam, therefore, needs just eight legislators to switch sides.

Sasikala– a long-time confidante of Jayalalithaa – was anointed as the late CM’s successor by the state’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in December and was due to be sworn in last week.

But she was pulled into a bitter struggle last week by Panneerselvam, who alleged he was forced to resign. Since then, he has been backed by several party MPs and MLAs but a majority of the party is said to be behind Sasikala and Palaniswami.

On Friday, DMK working president MK Stalin and former Congress state chief EVKS Elangovan both confirmed that they would vote against the government.

Governor C Vidyasagar Rao had given Palaniswami 15 days to prove his majority but the CM chose to take the floor test immediately – apparently over concerns that the lawmakers confined in the resort for nine days were getting anxious.

But now, analysts warn there is a real possibility of Palaniswami losing the vote and going down in history as the CM with the shortest tenure in the state – just three days.

Handlooms minister O Manian, however, displayed no nerves when he told television reporters that “Of course we will win. Where is the question of otherwise?”

The bitterness between the camps was apparent in a string of tit-for-tat sackings throughout the day. Panneerselvam loyalist E Madhusudanan expelled Sasikala, her nephews TTV Dinakaran and S Venktatesh and all the ministers of the new government, claiming that their camp was the real AIADMK.

Late in the evening, the election commission sent a notice to Sasikala on a petition by Panneerselvam’s camp challenging her elevation as interim party chief last month. Panneerselvam also met the assembly speaker P Dhanpal and urged him to conduct a secret ballot that will enable MLAs to vote according to their conscience but was turned down.

The Sasikala faction also appointed senior minister KA Sengottiyan as the floor leader for the party.

First Published: Feb 17, 2017 23:28 IST