Tamil Nadu government safe as Madras HC upholds disqualification of 18 ‘dissident’ MLAs
In a shot in the arm for the beleaguered Edappadi Palaniswami government, the Madras high court on Thursday upheld the disqualification of 18 MLAs owing allegiance to rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran, who had floated his own outfit Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.
Bringing down the curtains on the more-than-a-year long legal battle, which had seen a split verdict, justice M Sathyanarayanan, the third judge appointed by the Supreme Court to hear and decide the matter, pronounced the verdict in a packed court hall, bringing jubilation to the chief minister’s camp.
Tamil Nadu assembly speaker P Dhanapal had disqualified the 18 legislators under the anti-defection law on September 18, 2017. This was seen as a pre-emptive move to stymie any attempt by Dhinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew and the Mannargudi strongman, to dislodge the government and taking over the reins of the state government.
Dhinakaran had hoped that Palaniswami, once his loyalist, would step down and pave the way for his coronation. For, it was Dhinakaran who had forced O Panneerselvam out of the CM’s office and installed Palaniswami as chief minister following the death of former AIADMK supremo and ex-CM J Jayalalithaa.
A reluctant Palaniswami did a volte face and joined hands with Panneerselvam. While continuing to occupy the CM’s post, he and Panneerselvam ousted Sasikala and Dhinakaran from the AIADMK.
Following this, Dhinakaran, accompanied by the 18 MLAs, approached the then governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao with a petition, expressing lack of confidence in the chief minister and seeking a change of guard. With the governor sitting on the petition, the Palaniswami government swung into action and the speaker disqualified all the 18 legislators for “voluntarily giving up their memberships” of AIADMK.
The high court verdict maintains the status quo of Palaniswami government since the majority needed is 108 in the now-reduced 215-member House, and the ruling faction enjoys the support of 109 MLAs (excluding the speaker).
The disqualified MLAs could now move to the Supreme Court against the judgement and the state could have bypolls in their constituencies.
Reacting to the verdict, Dhinakaran said a decision on challenging the judgment would be taken after consultation with the MLAs. “It is not a setback for us. This is an experience, we will face the situation,” he said.
He had gotten the 18 MLAs shifted to a resort in Tirunelveli district fearing poaching by the ruling faction.
Earlier, in the morning, chief minister Palaniswami cancelled all his morning programmes and held a meeting with law minister C Ve Shanmugam and other senior ministers over the case.