The Madras High Court has upheld the disqualification of 18 legislators from Tamil Nadu assembly by the speaker. In one of the most awaited verdicts in Tamil Nadu’s political history, Justice Sathyanarayan upheld the June 14 order by the then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee.
The 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs were disqualified on September 18, 2017 by the Speaker P Dhanapal as per the anti-defection law. The steps were taken after the legislators approached the governor to express their loss of confidence in Chief Minister Palaniswami. The 18 MLAs are the supporters of Sasikala-Dinakaran fraction of AIADMK. Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), formed and led by Dinakaran has been on this legal battle against the disqualification ever since.
On June 14, the HC bench passed a split order on the matter. Then Chief justice Indira Banerjee upheld the speaker’s decision based on the anti-defection law, while the second judge Justice M Sundar differed on the grounds of non-compliance with principles of natural justice, and violation of constitutional mandate. Justice Vimala was later appointed as the third judge on the case by the court.
But, the disqualified MLAs approached the Supreme Court, based on their dissatisfaction with the new judge. The SC then appointed Justice Sathyanarayanan as the third judge.
Justice Sathyanarayanan said he considered only the situation in which the disqualification had happened, and that he did not look into the followed chain of events.
The verdict is considered to be temporary relief for the Palaniswami government. However, the coming byelections would test this government’s mettle, as Dinakaran poses a strong threat with his capability of splitting the vote bank.
The AIADMK workers are celebrating in many places after the verdict came out. Chief Minister Palaniswami welcomed the verdict, and expressed confidence that they will win the byelections – if declared by the Election Commission (EC).
Dinakaran has said that the future course of action will decided after meeting with the disqualified legislators.
MK Stalin, chief of DMK has already asked the EC to conduct byelections soon. "Democracy must be safeguarded. Already two assembly constituencies are vacant, now with Madras HC verdict, 18 more seats have fallen vacant. Therefore, EC should take steps immediately to fill them," said Stalin.
Currently, Palaniswami government stays above the halfway mark of 116. But, as always, the undercurrents among the legislators might be revealed only at the last moment.
The turns of events
The party was split into two after the death of party supremo and the then Chief Minister J Jayalalitha on December 5, 2016. On December 29, the party general council unanimously elected Sasikala as the general secretary. She was expected to ascend to the chief minister post by February 2017.
K Paneerselvam, the then chief minister resigned from his post on February 6. The next day, he dramatically declared a war on Sasikala by claiming that she had forced him to resign. He was expelled from the party thereafter.
However, the Supreme Court convicted Sasikala and her aids for amassing illicit wealth in the 90's. She, along with the co-accused Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran, was sentenced to four years of jail term along with a fine of Rs 10 crore each. She was also barred from contesting election in the next 10 years.
Palaniswami, then a loyalist of Sasikala, was then elected as the chief minister in her absence, and he won the trust vote on the floor with the support of 122 MLAs. When the bypoll in RK Nagar, Jayalalitha's seat, was declared, a dispute on party symbol erupted. The symbol was frozen, and election was postponed after the EC found out about the cash flow to buy votes. Later, TTV Dinakaran, party’s deputy general secretary and nephew of Sasikala, was arrested for bribing an EC official to get the symbol for Palaniswami fraction.
With Dinakaran behind the bars, both Paneerselvam and Palaniswami fractions started discussing the idea of a merger. It is alleged that both the leaders had met with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that the BJP had taken an interest in the merger.
On August 21, both the fractions merged, and Paneerselvam took charge as the deputy chief minister in the Palaniswami government. Sasikala and the entire Mannargudi clan (named after her family area) were ousted from AIADMK, which was one of the demands put forth by Paneerselvam.
But, RK Nagar stood with Dinakaran in the next by-election, which was a huge setback for the AIADMK government. He then formed a new party – AMMK. The disqualified MLAs, along with AMMK, can cause a headache to the government with the ever changing loyalties among their ranks.