Making sense of the numbers game

Regardless of who wins this battle, AIADMK may end up as a much-weakened political outfit

Updated - December 03, 2021 12:25 pm IST

Published - February 10, 2017 01:56 am IST - CHENNAI:

O. Panneerselvam and V.K. Sasikala

O. Panneerselvam and V.K. Sasikala

Even as the fate of the Tamil Nadu government hangs in balance after the dramatic revelations of interim Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam on Tuesday night on Marina Beach, focus has turned on the number of MLAs that he and the AIADMK General Secretary V.K. Sasikala could claim as their respective supporters, and how that figure would influence the possible actions of State Governor Vidyasagar Rao in the days ahead.

Depending on how many of the sitting MLAs each side could garner, several outcomes are possible.

The first outcome, which would lend credence to the theory that Mr. Panneerselvam took the unexpected step that he did in the belief that he would receive support from a bulk of his party colleagues, is that at least 89 out of the 135 AIADMK MLAs throw their weight behind him, and that count includes his own seat.

 

This is the minimum number that Mr. Panneerselvam would need in order to satisfy the requirements of the Anti-Defection Law, which calls for a two-thirds shift in the party vote to avoid disqualification.

By Thursday evening, it was evident that both Mr. Panneerselvam and Ms. Sasikala had presented the Governor their perspective on how many MLAs’ support they had.

At this point, the Governor would seek to determine which of the two groups deserves to be sworn in, and once he does so, the role of the Speaker of the Assembly, P. Dhanapal, will be key: it is the Speaker who would likely decide which faction’s whip is valid.

Role of the Speaker

The second scenario is one in which Mr. Panneerselvam does not pass the 89-seat threshold; in which case, he and his supporters will likely be required to vote as per the party whip of the Sasikala group, failing which they would, again, risk disqualification.

While a growing number of MLAs have been seen to confer with Mr. Panneerselvam and pledge their support to him, their total number does not appear to be anywhere near 89 yet.

If, in this case, the Sasikala faction retains the support of the majority of AIADMK MLAs, then it is likely that they will press harder for the opportunity to form the government with Ms. Sasikala as the Chief Minister.

Further, if Speaker Dhanapal sides with the Sasikala camp, as he well might, that group may submit a memorandum to him that the Panneerselvam faction was voting against the party’s wishes and that could further curtail the options that Mr. Panneerselvam and his colleagues have.

Either way, the role of the Speaker could be decisively important to the denouement of this impasse, and indeed, it could even complicate matters considerably as happened in the case of Arunachal Pradesh last year.

Waiting for the verdict

The third possible outcome is that in the interest of giving every claimant a fair opportunity, the Governor will let Mr. Panneerselvam withdraw his accepted resignation on the basis that it may have been made under duress. In this case, the Governor could call for a floor test, which Mr. Panneerselvam may fail unless he manages to carry a major chunk of the MLAs with him.

Finally, it is possible that even if Ms. Sasikala has already presented the Governor with the requisite number of MLAs to form a government, he may, on legal advice, delay swearing her in until the verdict in the disproportionate assets case comes, possibly next week. That would possibly be a prudent way to save the Assembly from further chaos in the event of an adverse verdict for Ms. Sasikala.

An adverse verdict would of course have powerful repercussions in the current scenario in Tamil Nadu and could permanently close the gate for Ms. Sasikala’s ambition to win the chief ministership.

Regardless of which of these four outcomes occurs, if no single faction is able to survive a floor test and form the government, the Governor may decide to recommend that Article 356 of the Constitution be invoked and President’s Rule imposed owing to a breakdown of constitutional machinery.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgement in the S.R. Bommai case, the State Assembly could only be held in suspended animation and not dissolved entirely, a requirement that could, at least in the near term, forestall any decision to call for elections.

Nevertheless, the Constitution requires Parliament to vote on adopting a resolution ratifying the imposition of President’s Rule within two months. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be unable to do so expediently, as it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

This would give Governor Rao and parties of Tamil Nadu two months to explore the possibility of forming the government. If they fail to do so, Parliament may ratify the proclamation under Article 356, and there could be no option but to call for elections.

One deeply contested issue that is likely to be debated right through the upcoming season of political turmoil is which group will end up with the Two Leaves symbol of the original AIADMK.

This would, under law, be decided solely by the Election Commission, and this would likely be on the basis of checking which group has an overall organisational (office bearers) majority and legislative majority.

Regardless of how events pan out, a few things are clear: First, the AIADMK party, in whichever form it emerges from this battle, will be considerably weaker than what it was in its unified, united form, under late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

Second, the fog of uncertainty and chaos that has hung over Tamil Nadu for months now, since the time of Jayalalithaa’s demise, to the shock events of Cyclone Vardah, the jallikattu protests, demonetisation, drought and water scarcity, and now this political subterfuge, will persist for some time longer, and this may be to the detriment of the State.

( With inputs from K. Venkataramanan )

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