18 rebel AIADMK lawmakers disqualified by Tamil Nadu assembly Speaker in September last year have challenged the decision in Madras High Court
- In September last year, Speaker P Dhanapal had disqualified 18 AIADMK lawmakers close to sacked party chief VK Sasikala for writing to then Governor Vidyasagar Rao, withdrawing support to Mr Palaniswami and seeking his replacement. They had made it clear that they were not withdrawing support to the AIADMK government.
- The Speaker had acted on a plea filed by the AIADMK whip in the assembly who contended that the rebels through their action had tried to topple the state government and hence invited action according to the anti-defection law.
- The AIADMK has 116 lawmakers, excluding the Speaker, in the 234-member assembly. The opposition DMK has a tally of 98 and VK Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran is the lone Independent legislator. Recently, three more lawmakers extended their support to Mr Dhinakaran, bringing down the AIADMK’s numbers to 113 — four less than the simple majority mark — should there be a trust vote.
- If the court strikes down the disqualification, it would be a setback for the state government which could fall. Sources in the ruling dispensation say they are confident of their numbers. If the disqualification is quashed, they say a few members from Mr Dhinakaran’s camp are bound to return to the party fold.
- There would be no threat to the government if the disqualification is upheld as the effective strength of the house would come down to 214. But that would also clear the way for bypolls to 18 seats, which could be an acid test for the AIADMK.
- If the verdict of the two judge bench — comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose — is split, the case will be referred to a larger bench, in which case there would be no immediate threat to the government.
- Another option could be the court asking the Speaker to reconsider his decision. This could lead the way for a rethink by the Speaker on some rebels if they express regret. These lawmakers may support Mr Palaniswami, bringing some relief to the party.
- The outcome of the case may open up a fresh round of legal tussle and political squabbling within the ruling AIADMK, a party that has seen an intense power struggle since former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016.
- After Jayalalithaa died, her close aide VK Sasikala took over the reins of the party and was tipped to be Chief Minister but had to go to jail following her conviction in a corruption case. The party split into two factions, led by Mr Palaniswami and O Pannerselvam.
- Last year, the two factions patched up after a power sharing deal was worked out, according to which Mr Pannerselvam was made Deputy Chief Minister. Mr Dhinakaran, who won the bypoll to RK Nagar, a seat held by Jayalalithaa earlier, with a huge margin claims he represents the real AIADMK.