The Madras High Court on Thursday upheld the decision of Tamil Nadu Speaker P Dhanapal to disqualify 18 rebel MLAs owing allegiance to jailed party leader V K Sasikala and her nephew T T V Dhinakaran. This comes as a major relief to the AIADMK government.
The verdict, delivered by the third judge M Sathyanarayanan, who heard the case afresh after the first bench of then chief justice Indira Banerjee and Justice S Sundar delivered a split verdict, has ensured the stability of the Edappadi K Palaniswami government, which was surviving on a wafer-thin majority, at least for now.
The judge, on Thursday, also vacated the stay on conduct of byelections in the 18 constituencies and floor test in the House. While Banerjee had upheld the Speaker’s decision, Sundar had disagreed with her and declared the disqualification null and void.
In a house with an effective strength of 214 members, the AIADMK now enjoys the support of 115 MLAs, including the Speaker, as against the current magic number of 107.
The Tamil Nadu Assembly has 234 seats and two seats were already vacant due to the death of DMK chief M Karunanidhi and AIADMK MLA A K Bose. The government will now be forced to face byelections in 20 constituencies, including the 18 seats that have now become vacant due to the court order, if the rebel group does not appeal before the Supreme Court.
Facing bypolls in 20 seats would be a gruelling task for the government since it will have to fight it out with a resurgent DMK and rebel Dhinakaran. If the rebel appeals against the high court order, the status quo might remain for a few more months.
While the ruling AIADMK and DMK said they were ready to face polls anytime, Dhinakaran sought to buy time as he maintained that the decision on whether to go for an appeal or face the elections will have to be decided in consultation with the disqualified legislators.
“We don’t see it as a setback. We expected that the verdict will be in our favour, but it has gone against us. The decision on the next course of action will be taken in consultation with the disqualified MLAs,” Dhinakaran said.
He added that he would travel to the tourist town of Courtallam on Friday to meet his supporters, who have been camping there since Monday.
“(This court) is of the considered view that there is no error apparent on the face of the record and the reasons assigned by the first respondent/Speaker did not suffer on the grounds of Breach of Constitutional Mandate, Malafides, Non-Compliance of the Rules of Natural Justice and no Perversity is attached to the reasons assigned by the first respondent/Speaker to disqualify the petitioners,” Justice Sathyanarayanan said in his 475-page detailed order.
He said he concluded that the Speaker’s decision was right based on an independent application of mind to the materials placed and on careful scrutiny and appreciation of the entire materials placed and after “giving thorough consideration” to the submissions made on behalf of the parties.
The 18 MLAs were disqualified by Speaker Dhanapal in September last year after they submitted letters withdrawing their support to Palaniswami after the latter patched up with then rebel O Panneerselvam and inducted him into his Cabinet as deputy chief minister.