Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami cannot seek a trust vote in the assembly before the court decides on the status of 18 rebel AIADMK lawmakers disqualified by Assembly Speaker this week, the Madras High Court ordered on Wednesday. The directive has come as a relief for the rebel lawmakers and the opposition that had accused the ruling AIADMK of manufacturing majority by disqualifying dissenting MLAs.
The high court said it would decide on a batch of petitions filed against Speaker P Dhanapal’s order disqualifying 18 lawmakers on October 4 and directed against starting the process to fill seats that have fallen vacant due to the disqualification.
“It’s a victory for democracy. It has defeated the EPS government’s plan to disqualify them (rebel MLAs) and call for a floor test to make a backdoor entry to govern the state,” said A Saravanan, spokesperson of the opposition DMK which has been trying to milk the AIADMK’s internal crisis.
The latest crisis within the party has its origin in the merger of factions led by Chief Minister Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, who later became Deputy Chief Minister.
One of the conditions for the merger deal was that the party should throw out its general secretary Sasikala and her deputy TTV Dhinakaran. Once the AIADMK leaders made this change, the 18 lawmakers quickly withdrew support to the Chief Minister and demanded that Mr Palaniswami be replaced.
The disqualification order had insured the EPS government against any embarrassment if the ruling AIADMK government had to prove its majority in a floor test, as demanded by the main opposition party DMK last month.
But the AIADMK government would be in a real danger if the high court were to find that the disqualification order was flawed, or illegal as the rebel lawmakers insisted in court on Wednesday. Unless, the rival factions of the AIADMK are able to find some common ground to work together within the next fortnight.
Chief Minister Palaniswami has the support of 113 lawmakers and would have flunked the trust vote if the rebels, loyal to VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, had been allowed to vote. The Speaker’s disqualification order had brought down the strength of the assembly to 214. The government’s 113 MLAs would have been well above the 107 half-way mark at 107.
Dushyant Dave, the counsel for the rebel lawmakers, argued that the disqualification is illegal. Though the lawmakers had withdrawn support to Chief Minister Palaniswami and sought his replacement, they clarified in the letter to the Governor that they remained in the party and are not withdrawing support to the government.
The rebel lawmakers also cited a similar case in the neighbouring Karnataka where the court had ultimately quashed the disqualification of MLAs by the Karnataka Speaker.
He recalled that the Speaker did not disqualify the 12 legislators from the O Panneerselvam camp in the party who had voted against the Palaniswami government during the floor test in February. This, he said, suggested the Speaker could be biased to ensure comfortable majority for Chief Minister EPS.