The inauguration of the Assembly-Secretariat complex on the Omandurar Government Estate in the heart of the State capital of Chennai marks another milestone in the history of the elected legislature of Tamil Nadu.

The origins of the legislature can be traced back to the Indian Councils Act, 1861. The law restored the legislative power taken away by the Charter Act of 1833. The legislature of the Madras Presidency, which then comprised the present area of Tamil Nadu and parts of what are now the States of Orissa, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, was given the power to make laws for the “peace and good government.”

The Provincial Legislative Council was constituted. It consisted of the Advocate General and four to eight ad hoc members nominated by the Governor to the Executive Council. At least half the members were to be non-officials, nominated for two years. The Legislative Council could not interfere with the laws passed by the Central Legislature. All Bills passed by Provincial Councils required the assent of the Governor-General. Even after that, they could be disallowed by the Queen, to whom they had to be referred. Though the Council was a mere advisory committee for the government in its legislative work, one positive feature was that the public came to know of what went on in the Council, which was till then not possible.

As a result of the Minto-Morley Reforms, a package of constitutional concessions was formulated through the Indian Councils Act, 1909. This raised the strength of the Council from 20 to 50. Elections, though not direct, were introduced.

With nationalist sentiment gaining strength, the British enacted the Government of India Act of 1919, also known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. The membership of the Madras Legislative Council went up to 127 — it was the country’s biggest body of its kind at that time. The number of elected members was 98; the remaining members belonged to the Executive Council or were nominated non-official members. The life of each House of the Council was three years.

On January 8, 1921, the inaugural meeting of the Council took place at Fort St. George. Four days later, the Council was formally inaugurated by the Duke of Connaught, an uncle of George V, Emperor of England. At the inaugural meeting, the Council adopted a resolution to grant women the right to vote.

The next important stage in the evolution of the legislature was the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935. The Act established a bi-cameral Legislature in the Province of Madras, as it was then called, with the Legislative Assembly consisting of 215 members and the Legislative Council 56 members. The Legislative Council was to be a permanent body with one-third of its members retiring every three years. In the Assembly, there were 116 members from the general seats and 30 from those set aside for the Scheduled Castes. Representation was given to different groups such as Muslims, Christians and landholders. There were eight women members, too.

The first House of the Assembly was constituted in July 1937 after the general elections. C. Rajagopalachari became the Premier of the Presidency and headed the Congress Ministry. His Ministry resigned in 1939 following differences between the Congress party and the British government over the Second World War. The legislature ceased to function.

In March 1946, general elections were held all over the country. T. Prakasam, famously called Andhra Kesari, became the Chief Minister. Between March 1947 and April 1952, Omandur P. Ramaswamy Reddiar and P.S. Kumaraswamy Raja held the post.

Two years after the Constitution of India came into force in January 1950, elections to the first legislature of Madras State were held. The then Composite Madras Assembly consisted of 375 seats. These were filled by means of elections in 309 constituencies — 243 single-member constituencies, 62 double-member constituencies (one seat in each reserved for Scheduled Castes) and four double-member constituencies (one seat in each reserved for Scheduled Tribes). As the three seats were uncontested, elections were held only in the remaining 372 seats. One member was nominated by the Governor to represent Anglo-Indians.

In April 1952, Rajaji, who had by then held the posts of Governor-eneral and West Bengal Governor, succeeded Kumaraswamy Raja who lost in the general elections. Two years later, K. Kamaraj became the Chief Minister and he held the post till 1963.

The strength of the Assembly went down to 231 with the formation of the Andhra State in October 1953 and the merger of Kannada-speaking area of Bellary district with the then Mysore State. After the States Re-organisation Act came into force in November 1956, the number of members was further reduced to 190. After Kanyakumari district and Shencottah taluk were added to the State, the strength was raised to 205. Three years later, one more constituency was added to Tamil Nadu, taking the strength to 206.

In 1961, all 38 double-member constituencies were abolished and an equal number of constituencies was reserved for SC and STs. Through the Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies Order of 1965, the number of territorial constituencies was increased to 234. Of these, 42 seats were reserved for the Scheduled Castes and two for the Scheduled Tribes, besides one member to be nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Since then, there has been no change in the strength of the Assembly. (Under the latest delimitation order of 2007, the number of seats earmarked for the SCs and the STs has not been disturbed.)

M. Bakthavatsalam succeeded Kamaraj in October 1963; since then there has not been a Congress Chief Minister in the State. In the historic Assembly elections of 1967, the 18-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under the leadership of C.N. Annadurai was swept to power. The name “Madras Legislative Assembly” was changed to the “Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly” on January 14, 1969.

M. Karunanidhi, who became Chief Minister in February 1969, remained in power till January 1976 when the Union government dismissed his government and dissolved the Assembly. After a brief period of President’s Rule, M.G. Ramachandran, the founder of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, became the Chief Minister after his party secured a majority in the 1977 elections. In February 1980, his government was dismissed and the State had another stint of President’s Rule. Ramachandran came back to power in June that year after the AIADMK emerged successful in the general elections. After his demise in December 1987, his widow Janaki Ramachandran held the post of Chief Minister for 24 days. One more spell of President’s Rule followed.

The Legislative Council, which was part of the State legislature since 1937, was abolished with effect from November 1986. In May that year, the Assembly adopted a resolution seeking to abolish the Upper House. Subsequently, Parliament adopted the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council (Abolition) Bill, which got presidential assent in August 1986. In 1989 and 1996, the Assembly adopted resolutions to revive the Upper House but these efforts did not fructify.

In the 1989 Assembly elections, the DMK staged a historic comeback and Mr. Karunanidhi became Chief Minister after a gap of 13 years. Two years later, his government was dismissed again.

In the 1991 Assembly polls, the AIADMK was returned to power and Jayalalithaa became the Chief Minister. Five years later, Mr. Karunanidhi was sworn in Chief Minister for the fourth time. In 2001, it was the turn of the AIADMK to stage a comeback. Ms. Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister for most of the term. O. Panneerselvam, who held the post for about five months, did not face the Assembly.

The 2006 elections saw the DMK coming back to power. Mr Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister for the fifth time.

Where the State legislature met

>> Council Chamber, Fort St. George (1921-1937)

>> Senate House, Chepauk campus, Madras University (July 14, 1937 - December 21, 1937)

>> Banqueting Hall (Rajaji Hall), Government Estate (January 27, 1938 - October 26, 1939)

>> Legislative Council, Fort St. George (May 24, 1946 - March 27, 1952)

>> Children’s Theatre (Kalaivanar Arangam), Government Estate (May 3, 1952 - December 27, 1956)

>> Assembly Hall, Fort St. George (April 29, 1957 - March 30, 1959)

>> Aranmore Palace,Udhagamandalam (April 20-30, 1959 - Legislative Assembly; May 4-9, 1959 -Legislative Council)

>> Fort. St. George (August 31,1959 - January 11, 2010)

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