Political horse-trading nothing new in TN history

INDIA-POLITICS Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisamy (R) gestures as he pays his respects at Jayalalithaa memorial at Marina | AFP

What is happening in Tamil Nadu is not new. The state assembly had gone for confidence vote twice earlier—first in 1952 and later in 1988.

With Sasikala’s proxy Edappadi K. Palanismay sworn in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu on Thursday, he will have to go for a confidence vote in the state assembly to prove his majority. 

As Palanisamy is all set to move the confidence motion on Saturday when the special session is convened, it is a D-day for him and former chief minister O. Panneerselvam. Both the leaders would not have anticipated such a turmoil even on the day Jayalalithaa’s sandalwood coffin was lowered into the watery grave at Marina on December 5, 2016. When Panneerselvam took over as the chief minister for the third time, the ruling AIADMK seemed to be together and the power transition looked smooth.

However, Tamil Nadu politics witnessed a major turmoil when OPS went to Jayalalithaa’s memorial on February 8, two days after he stepped down as the chief minister, and launched an open revolt against party chief V.K.Sasikala. The party seemed heading to a major split when OPS accused Sasikala, who was elected the legislative party leader, of forcing him to resign from the CM post. 

Now, with Supreme Court declaring Sasikala as a convict in an assets case, Palanisamy was elected as the chief minister and sworn in with 30 members in his cabinet. At a time when the state assembly is all set to go for a confidence voting, THE WEEK brings you the earlier instances of confidence voting in Tamil Nadu Assembly

It was in 1952, during C. Rajagopalachari’s regime, the state assembly first witnessed a vote of confidence. In 1988, M.G. Ramachandran’s wife Vaikom Narayani Janaki also went for confidence voting. While in 1952, Rajaji won the trust vote, in 1988 the assembly saw a pandemonium and Janaki lost in the trust vote and the state went under President’s rule. 

In fact, the constitutional crisis, numbers game, horse trading, unelected chief ministerial nominee seeking confidence vote and violence related to all these are nothing new in the six-decade-old history of Tamil Nadu Assembly.

In 1952, Rajagopalchari took charge as the first chief minister of the state after the constitution was adopted. The state was then called as Madras Presidency. The Congress regime led by Rajaji went for confidence vote as it was a minority government with the support of just 152 out of 375 members. This was when Congress’s popular faces like Kamaraj, Kumaraswami Raja, Bhakthavatsalam, Madhava Menon and Bezwada Gopala Reddy were defeated. As the Congress did not have the numbers, the then governor Sri Prakasa, had two options—either bring in the President’s rule or ask the single largest party—INC—to prove the majority in the house. Though most of the Congressmen were for the first option, Sri Prakasa asked Rajaji to prove the majority and gave him more than two months time to convene the assembly to seek a vote of confidence. 

This was when the state set a precedence for political games in the country as it witnessed all political twists and turns and horse trading. With just 152 members out of the 375-member assembly, Congress was nowhere near the halfway mark. Thirteen independent members supported directly and 30 members from other parties were made to support from outside. Rajaji proved his majority in the house with the support of 200 MLAs and continued to stay in power and rule the state. 

The assembly witnessed the same scenario in 1988 when Janaki moved the trust vote. Janaki, 64, tried hard to retain chief minster’s chair, but all in vain. The government lasted only for a week and she lost the confidence vote. As many as 98 MLAs, who were supporting her, were made to stay in the then party president's hotel on the Radhakrishnan Salai at Mylapore in Chennai. Thirty-three others, who supported Jayalaithaa were taken to Bombay, from there to Rajasthan and then made to stay at a spinning mill of the then MLA K.K.S.S. Ramachandran in Sattur. Ramachandran later defected to the DMK. 

Governor Khurana asked Janaki to prove majority and the house led by Speaker P.H. Pandian, who is with Panneerselvam faction now. Pandian wrote a surprising chapter in the history of the state assembly when dismissed the maximum number of MLAs under the anti-defection law even before they disobeyed the order of the party whip.

And when the house went for division voting, there was an extraordinary pandemonium with MLAs running for cover to save themselves from being hit by others. Steel helmeted policemen entered the assembly to control the situation. The house witnessed the maximum dramatic scenes like floor-crossings, meetings, etc on January 28, 1988. Finally, after the entire ruckus, the score for Janaki stood at 99 in the 235-member assembly. Eight party MLAs voted against her. Three MLAs abstained from voting. 10 MLAs were expelled. 63 MLAs of the Congress voted against her.

The assembly met at 9.30 am in the morning, but the ruckus followed. Speaker adjourned the session to noon. By then more private parleys took place and the AIADMK’s then chief strategist R.M. Veerappan tried to bring more numbers for Janaki. When the house went to vote, speaker’s chair hurled down and his table was pushed to the well of the house. Things went even worse with outsiders, mostly hooligans, coming in escalating the violence. Policemen came in. Several Congress MLAs were injured in lathi charge. 

Now, exactly three decades later, it remains to be seen if Palanisamy will prove the majority even when he has the numbers or if the house will witness violence and pandemonium as it did in 1988. 

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