Verdict on disqualification of 18 MLAs on June 14; Tamil Nadu on tenterhooks

palaniswami-pti Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami | PTI

The Madras High Court will, on Thursday, pronounce its verdict in one of the most awaited cases in Tamil Nadu which will have far-reaching political ramifications in the state. The verdict on the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs, whatever it may be, could usher in a political upheaval in the state, say political observers.

On September 18, 2017, 18 MLAs loyal to rebel leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who withdrew support to Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, were disqualified by Speaker P. Dhanapal. The Election Commission was notified about the 18 constituencies which fell vacant. The notice of disqualification was first issued to 19 MLAs, but one of them, S.T.K. Jakkaiyan from Cumbum constituency, later switched sides and came back to Palaniswami camp.

The action by the speaker was taken under Schedule 10 of the Constitution which deals with anti-defection law and disqualification rules of 1986. The 18 MLAs were disqualified as they rebelled against the chief minister and went to the then Tamil Nadu governor saying they have lost confidence in the chief minister.

The 18 MLAs disqualified by the speaker are S. Thangatamilselvan (Andipatti), R. Murugan (Harur), S. Mariappan Kennedy (Manamadurai), K. Kadirkamu (Periyakulam), Jayanthi Padmanabhan (Gudiyattam), P. Palaniappan (Pappireddypatti), V. Senthil Balaji (Aravakurichi), S. Muthiah (Paramakudi), P. Vetrivel (Perambur), N.G. Pathiban (Sholingur), M. Kodandapani (Tiruporur), T.A. Elumalai (Poonamallee), M. Rengasamy (Thanjavur), R. Thangadurai (Nilakottai), R. Balasubramani (Ambur), S.G. Subramanian (Sattur), R. Sundaraj (Ottapidaram) and Uma Maheswari (Vilathikulam).

The disqualified MLAs moved the court against the decision of the speaker. They, in a writ petition, sought to quash the speaker’s decision. Soon, a batch of petitions was filed in the Madras High Court, challenging the disqualification. The DMK, in a separate petition, urged the court to order a floor test and make the ruling AIADMK government prove its majority.

While these petitions were pending in the court, DMK’s whip R. Sakkarapani filed a petition seeking to disqualify O. Panneerselvam and 10 MLAs in his camp for defying the AIADMK’s official whip during the floor test on February 2017. However, in the judgment delivered on April 27 in this petition, the bench comprising of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose, dismissed the petition saying the court cannot interfere with the speaker's rights.

While dismissing the petition, the court made it clear that the case of disqualification of 18 MLAs and the MLAs defying the party whip cannot be compared. The court said in its verdict, “Even though it is nobody's case that the applicants who sought disqualification of the respondent MLAs did not have locus standi, it has to be remembered that there is one notable difference between the application for disqualification of the respondent MLAs and the 18 MLAs who have been disqualified, in that the application for disqualification of the 18 MLAs was filed by the Chief Party Whip and supported by the Chief Minister elected by the AIADMK party. The application for disqualification of the respondent MLAs has been filed by a few individual MLAs and is not supported either by the Party Whip or the majority of the members of the AIADMK party in the Legislative Assembly. The involvement of the Party Whip or the Chief Minister elected by the party would be an important factor for determining whether the impugned action of an MLA has the approval or disapproval of the party.”

Going by this observation in the verdict, the legal observers feel, in the 18 MLAs case, the court may uphold the speaker’s decision and disqualify them. However, given the present situation, the political observers foresee three different scenarios which could see political ramifications in the state.

Scenario 1: Upholding the speaker’s decision to disqualify all the 18 MLAs

If this happens, all eyes will be on the Election Commission which will have to announce the dates for bypolls. The DMK, which has 89 MLAs, will fight hard to grab these seats. The government will also be forced to prove majority on the floor of the house as the petition seeking floor test, which was stayed by the court, will come up. “I foresee that the court will uphold the decision of the speaker disqualifying the 18 MLAs. In such a scenario, the government will have to go for a floor test and obviously it has 113 MLAs. The 18 seats will be declared vacant and soon bypolls will take place,” senior journalist and political analyst Tharasu Shyam said.

However, the government will come out unaffected as, despite disqualification, the AIADMK has the required numbers in the assembly. If the disqualification is upheld by court, the total strength of the 234-member assembly will come down to 216. In such a case, the Palaniswami camp will need the support of 108 MLAs to prove majority.

Scenario 2: Court quashing the disqualification of MLAs

If this happens, alarm bells will start ringing in the political circles in the state. The Palaniswami dispensation will have tough days ahead. If the 18 MLAs decide to stick to Dhinakaran camp and the three independent MLAs, who won contesting on the two-leaves symbol, extend support to Dhinakaran, the state may soon see another chief minister, if not government.

Scenario 3: A split verdict

If this is the case, the petition will be placed before the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, and the status quo as of now will continue.

But, in all the three scenarios, the role of 18 and the three independent MLAs is crucial. It may be noted that the DMK has 89 MLAs, and the Congress eight.