Disintegrate AIADMK: Rival groups
Tamil Nadu is now in a state of political turmoil. Newly-minted Chief Minister E Palanisami faces hostility from the 11-member rebel group led by former Chief Minister O.S. Panneerselvam while MK Stalin is leading the 89-member opposition party, the DMK, sees opportunities, with a divided AIADMK, to challenge the ruling dispensation more effectively and create conditions for promulgation of President's rule and fresh elections.
Political stability may appear elusive at present, opening up several possibilities in the days to come, in a State noted for sustained governance over five decades, ruled by one or the other of the rival Dravidian majors, AIADMK and DMK. In his anxiety to seize power, Stalin foresees a snap election before even the local body elections scheduled by mid-year.
Despite winning a vote of confidence, Palanisami has a relatively slender majority in a party vulnerable to further divisions. It looks doubtful as of now whether he would gain a large measure of credibility to run the Government for four years. It is too early to judge, notwithstanding his previous experience in the government. Much would depend on how efficiently he performs in addressing the state's urgent problems and shows his mettle.
AIADMK was on the ascendancy since 2011 under late Jayalalithaa's welfare-cum-development model and got re-elected for a second term in 2016. The late "Amma" had also led the party to capture 37 out of 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and gave her party the status of the third-largest in Parliament.
The passing away of Jayalalithaa on December 5 and the more recent Supreme Court Verdict in the 21-year old DA case against her (abated) and aide V.K. Sasikala along with two others have totally transformed the course of politics for the future in Tamil Nadu.
Sasikala had hoped to take on the mantle of Jayalalithaa in full, got herself appointed as General Secretary, but her bid to take over as Chief Minister was thwarted in time by the apex court reinstating an earlier trial court conviction and sentence of four years for her in Bengaluru prison. She nominated E Palanisami as the leader to meet the Governor and stake claim in her place.
When the House met on February 18 for taking up confidence motion of Palanisami, the DMK leader first sought a deferment of the vote and then a secret ballot. Speaker P. Dhanapal rejected both requests. The latter stuck to 'votes by division' under TN Assembly rules, not yielding to the demand for a secret vote.
A storm of protests ensued, DMK members rushing to the well of the House en masse, tearing up papers, manhandling of the Speaker and doing other incendiary acts. After two adjournments, the 88 DMK members glued to their desks were bundled out by police acting as watch and ward staff. Eight Congress members walked out thereafter.
Palanisami's motion was then taken up, and he won by 122 votes as against 11 of the Panneerselvam group. The latter also had earlier called for a secret ballot, rejected by the Speaker. Any action to disqualify the 11 members would cause by-elections which the ruling party would not risk at present.
Former CM Panneerselvam, opposed to all Sasikala moves ("Chinnamma" for others) has plans to go all over the state with his objective to bring back "Amma's rule" as the true inheritor of the policies of the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. He hopes to gain wider support on this mission.
Once the opposition leader and his party men were evicted from the Assembly before the motion for confidence sought by Palanisami was taken up for voting, they all trooped down to the Marina Beach to stage a hunger strike in a prohibited area. Police rounded them up, but all were released later.
Stalin rushed to meet the Governor Vidyasagar Rao and present a memorandum on the "murder of democracy" in the House and called for his intervention. He as well as Panneerselvam, in meetings with the Governor, contended that the vote taken in the House was invalid and that it should be annulled.
The Governor reportedly rejected any intervention and "nullifying" the vote, taking the circumstances into account. Stalin was told that the Speaker has all the powers to run the House. If they had a grievance, they could make a legal approach. The Governor has, however, asked for a factual report on the proceedings from the Secretary of the Assembly. He must presumably be sending a report to the Centre as an update on Tamil Nadu political situation.
Since over 120 MLAs of the party had been kept in captive style by Sasikala for backing her, initially when she was expecting to be called by the Governor before the apex court verdict, she took their support for granted for her nominee Palanisami as well. This proved right.
In calling for a secret vote, Panneerselvam had calculated that many of the MLAs kept in captivity by Sasikala would turn in his favour. Along with the support of DMK and other opposition (Congress) members, he thought perhaps, and it might have been possible to frustrate the vote of confidence for Palanisami.
As Working President and Leader of Opposition, Stalin has called for a state-wide hunger strike by DMK cadres on February 22 directed against the new AIADMK Government. DMK, no matter how troubles originated in the TN Assembly on February 18, wants to make itself the aggrieved party and petition the President against alleged violations of rules by the Speaker and also move the courts for invalidating the voting.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)