The Tamil Nadu political drama shows no signs of abating. The decision of Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal to disqualify 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs, owing allegiance to Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, raises serious questions of constitutional propriety. It has further deepened the instability plaguing the State ever since the death of J Jayalalithaa in December last year. In the midst of a raging battle over Jayalalithaa’s political legacy, the disqualification of rebels was apparently aimed at facilitating a smooth sailing for the E Palaniswamy government in the event of a floor test. The halfway mark in the 234-member Assembly has now come down to 108 from 117 while the government claims the support of 114 MLAs. The governance in the State has suffered a lot with key public issues being relegated to the background as major political players have been engaged in a prolonged power struggle. The Madras High Court, currently hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Speaker’s action and seeking a trial of strength on the floor of the Assembly, has provided a reprieve for the government, ruling that there would be no floor test until the disposal of the petitions. This may bring in a semblance of stability for now but questions are being raised over the constitutional validity of disqualification of rebels under the provisions of the anti-defection law, particularly when they have not defied any whip of the party nor have they switched to another party. The next hearing is on October 4. Even if the court strikes down the disqualification order on the grounds that the rebels have not violated the whip, the Speaker can still disqualify them once they vote against the AIADMK during the floor test.
The ruling camp may draw comfort from a similar precedent in Karnataka where the High Court had upheld the disqualification of 11 BJP legislators and five independents in 2010 when the BJP was in power. However, the rebel group has argued that they have not revolted against the government but have only opposed the Chief Minister’s corrupt practices. While the ball is in the High Court whose final verdict will decide the fate of the Palaniswamy government, the people of the State are fed up with the shenanigans of the politicians locked in a power battle. Along with the ruling and rebel AIADMK camps, the opposition parties are also engaged in the game of one-upmanship and looking for an opportunity to dislodge the government. The idea of en masse resignations is also on the table of the DMK to protest against what the opposition party calls ‘murder of democracy’. However, such a move could eventually lead to mid-term elections for which no party is prepared.