A ruling convenient to all TN parties

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

The Edappadi Palaniswami government in Tamil Nadu has got another reprieve with the Madras high court upholding the Speaker’s decision to disqualify 18 MLAs belonging to the TTV Dhinakaran faction of the AIADMK. A two-member bench of the court had given a split verdict in the case in June but a third judge has now ruled that the disqualification stays because the Speaker’s decision is supreme. There have been contradictory and confusing court judgements on the Speaker’s powers at different times in different cases. The 18 Dhinakaran-group MLAs were disqualified for telling the state governor that they did not support the Palaniswami government. But 11 MLAs of the O Panneerselvam faction who had actually voted against the government were not disqualified, and some of them are ministers. It is unfortunate that a law which was meant to curb defections has been rendered ineffective and the courts are unable to do anything about it. 

If the court had struck down the disqualifications, the Edappadi government would have lost its majority in the House. It was in a precarious position with the support of only 116 MLAs in the House of 234 seats and with some MLAs ready to revolt. Doubts about the government’s legitimacy, uncertainty about its future and various charges against ministers have hobbled it, but it has survived, not least because of support from the central government. The judgement has now opened up two possibilities. One is the holding of by-elections to the 18 constituencies and two others which have fallen vacant. The other is the continuance of the status quo, consequent on the MLAs filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the high court order. The MLAs had claimed that they were ready to face elections but have now opted to go in for an appeal and to avoid the elections. 

The holding of 20 by-elections will amount to a mini assembly election. No party in Tamil Nadu wants it before the Lok Sabha elections. The ruling AIADMK will have to win at least two seats, and probably more, if it has to retain power. The opposition DMK will have to perform extremely well to demonstrate its strength under the new leader, Stalin. Both parties are vary about elections after Dhinakaran’s huge victory in the RK Nagar byelection last year in which the AIADMK came a poor second and the DMK was relegated to the third position. An appeal by the disqualified MLAs, with an accompanying stay on by-elections, helps all parties to avoid an electoral contest in the near future. It may also help some of them to explore the possibility of new equations.

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A ruling convenient to all TN parties

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