Dhinakaran left with little options

Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam chief TTV Dhinakaran reacts before the media on Madras High Court's verdict disqualifying 18 rebel MLAs of the ruling AIADMK, in Chennai, on Thursday. PTI

The Madras High Court verdict allows the beleaguered AIADMK government to breathe easier and puts to test the leadership skills of rebel T T V Dhinakaran and his ability to keep his flock together.

Dhinakaran, the nephew of the late J Jayalalithaa’s long-time aide V K Sasikala, will have to go back to the drawing room to revise his strategy if he is intent on taking control of the AIADMK, which is now firmly in the hands of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami.

Judge M Sathyanarayanan, who heard the case afresh after the first bench delivered a split verdict in June, upheld Speaker P Dhanapal’s decision to disqualify 18 legislators who still owe allegiance to Dhinakaran and his family, which had a stranglehold over the AIADMK not long ago.

Dhinakaran has three options left before him — move the Supreme Court against the high court order, accept Thursday’s verdict and face by-polls, or succumb to Palaniswami, backed by the mighty BJP, and merge his faction with the AIADMK. While Dhinakaran, who comes across a shrewd politician and is often called as a smiling assassin, might not choose the third option, going for either of the remaining two choices also has its own risks.

Filing an appeal before the Supreme Court would give ample time for the Palaniswami camp, which has an entire government machinery at its disposal, to poach the disqualified MLAs by luring them with plum posts and thereby isolating the Sasikala family. The government still has half of its five-year term left to run.

Also, it would be impossible for Dhinakaran, for his part, to poach some MLAs from Palaniswami camp since the latter, taking a cue from Thursday’s verdict, would be emboldened to seek disqualification of the legislators if they are found to be against it.

The Speaker, who claims to have sky-high powers in the Assembly, can revoke the suspension of the MLAs at his own will — the legislators can submit a letter expressing regret for their “actions” — and this could be a big headache for Dhinakaran.

Palaniswami and the AIADMK leadership have problems with Dhinakaran and not Sasikala. Many senior ministers have refrained from criticising her as they view the nephew as a greater threat than the aunt to whom many owe their current positions.

The second option of forcing by-elections in the 18 constituencies — two more seats are also vacant due to the death of DMK chief M Karunanidhi and AIADMK MLA A K Bose — by accepting the Madras High Court verdict would be politically prudent for Dhinakaran. But this choice too has its own set of problems — voters are unpredictable, and the rebel leader cannot confidently predict a repeat of his R K Nagar victory last year as the three-way fight may end up benefiting the now resurgent DMK.

Also, if Dhinakaran forces by-elections and in case the DMK and its allies sweep the polls and destabilise the government, he would carry the ignominy of having brought down an administration installed by Jayalalithaa in 2016.

Political commentator Sumanth C Raman says the verdict is a big blow to Dhinakaran and he would need time to regroup. “Now he does not command the support of 18 MLAs and his party’s strength is only one legislator and that is Dhinakaran himself. It is better for Dhinakaran to try and delay the elections since the DMK might be in a better position to win them (now),” he told DH.

“If the DMK wins, he will not be taken seriously as a political force and the ideal situation is to go to the court by buying time and launch back channels with AIADMK for a merger,” Raman said.

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Dhinakaran left with little options

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