Acid Test for AIADMK

Madras High Court’s rul­ing may be re­lief for Tamil Nadu Chief Min­is­ter Edap­padi Palaniswami (EPS), but im­pend­ing by-elec­tions much big­ger chal­lenge for rul­ing AIADMK

The Day After - - CONTENT - By dAnFEs

With the Madras High Court up­hold­ing the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of 18 MLAs loyal to the VK Sasikala fac­tion of the All In­dia Anna Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (AIADMK) led by her nephew TTV Dhi­nakaran, the stage is now set for yet an­other mas­sive po­lit­i­cal show down. The state will wit­ness by-elec­tions in th­ese 18 As­sem­bly seg­ments, of the to­tal strength of 234 in the Tamil Nadu leg­is­la­ture, thus turn­ing it into a sort of mini gen­eral elec­tions, as Dhi­nakaran seems to be in favour of seek­ing peo­ple’s ver­dict rather than chal­leng­ing the high court rul­ing in the Supreme Court.

Re­act­ing to the ver­dict, Dhi­nakaran, who now heads the Amma Makkal Mun­netra Kazhagam (AMMK) af­ter be­ing de­serted by the ma­jor­ity of MLAs in the AIADMK, said, “Per­son­ally, my feel­ing is we should go for by-elec­tions.” He is con­fi­dent that his loy­al­ists will sweep the by-polls.

The high court ver­dict has, thus, taken the in­ter­nal bat­tle in the AIADMK, which be­gan af­ter the death of its leader and for­mer chief min­is­ter J Jay­alalithaa, from the con­sti­tu­tional court to the peo­ple’s court.

An ad­verse judg­ment would have en­dan­gered the sur­vival of the Edap­padi Palaniswami (EPS) govern­ment in Tamil Nadu, as an al­liance be­tween the Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Dhi­nakaran fac­tion can make things worse for the rul­ing fac­tion of the AIADMK. The DMK and its al­lies — the Congress and In­dian Union Mus­lim League — to­gether have 97 MLAs. If the 18 rebel AIADMK leg­is­la­tors forge an al­liance with them, be­sides In­de­pen­dent MLA Dhi­nakaran him­self, their strength would rise to 116 in the Tamil Nadu As­sem­bly, which has an ef­fec­tive strength of 232 (two seats are va­cant). There­fore, any po­lit­i­cal align­ment be­tween the DMK and Dhi­nakaran’s AMMK, with the sole ob­jec­tive of dis­lodg­ing the AIADMK govern­ment, would have trig­gered anx­ious mo­ments for the EPS-OPS fac­tion.

Al­though the rul­ing party fac­tion led by EPS and Deputy Chief Min­is­ter O Pan­neer­sel­vam (OPS) could avert an im­mi­nent threat to its sur­vival, the group will now have to face a much big­ger threat of fac­ing the elec­torate, given its po­lit­i­cal and or­gan­i­sa­tional vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

In Septem­ber 2017, Speaker of the Tamil Nadu As­sem­bly, P Dhana­pal, dis­qual­i­fied

the 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs un­der the Mem­bers of the Tamil Nadu Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly (Dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion Grounds of De­fec­tion) Rules, 1986, af­ter they an­nounced their loy­alty to Dhi­nakaran. This cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in the rul­ing AIADMK, as the sur­vival of the EPS govern­ment in Tamil Nadu was de­pen­dent on the sup­port of th­ese MLAs. The Speaker, who be­longs to the rul­ing fac­tion of the AIADMK, dis­qual­i­fy­ing the rebel MLAs re­duced the ef­fec­tive strength in the state leg­is­la­ture, which al­lowed the rul­ing fac­tion to still en­joy the ma­jor­ity in the House.

With the Madras High Court’s ver­dict, Palaniswami has cer­tainly con­sol­i­dated his po­si­tion in the strug­gle to con­trol the reigns of the AIADMK lead­er­ship. But ul­ti­mately, the bat­tle for ap­pro­pri­at­ing the legacy of late Jay­alalithaa does not end with the As­sem­bly seats the dis­qual­i­fied MLAs held.

More­over, Chief Min­is­ter Palaniswami hopes for sup­port from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Al­though the saf­fron party is not a big player in Tamil Nadu pol­i­tics, the as­cen­dancy of its politico re­li­gios­ity across the coun­try, and the fact that the Union govern­ment is un­der its lead­er­ship, the BJP cer­tainly mat­ters in the cur­rent power strug­gle in Tamil Nadu. Union min­is­ter Pon Radhakrishnan said the high court rul­ing ver­dict should have been pro­nounced much ear­lier, in­di­cat­ing an endorsement for the EPS-OPS side.

How­ever, the BJP has been keep­ing all its op­tions open to pen­e­trate the Dra­vid­ian land, which has al­ways re­mained an an­tithe­sis for Hin­dutva pol­i­tics. First, the party bet on the Pa­neer­sel­vam fac­tion. But re­al­is­ing that they could not live to up to its ex­pec­ta­tions, the BJP clev­erly iso­lated Sasikala within the AIADMK af­ter her ar­rest on cor­rup­tion charges, sub­se­quently prompt­ing both the OPS and EPS fac­tions to merge.

Yet, Dhi­nakaran re­mained a con­tender. His spec­tac­u­lar win in the RK Pu­ram by­elec­tion — ne­ces­si­tated by the demise of Jay­alalithaa — proved the grav­ity of his threat to the EPS-led AIADMK, de­spite the sup­port of the BJP cen­tral lead­er­ship. The rul­ing fac­tion is al­ways vul­ner­a­ble in the peo­ple’s court, given the anti-in­cum­bency it faces. The BJP is also look­ing at other op­tions, such as Ra­jinikanth, who had an­nounced his en­try into pol­i­tics on 31 De­cem­ber 2017, and even the DMK in the worst case sce­nario.

There­fore, th­ese by-elec­tions will be crit­i­cal for the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of the EPSOPS fac­tions of the AIADMK to not only re­main in power but to even get ex­ter­nal sup­port in the form of the BJP.

Re­cently, four more MLAs, who con­tested on AIADMK tick­ets pledged their sup­port to Dhi­nakaran. One of them, Karunas, had sent a no­tice to the sec­re­tary of the Tamil Nadu Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly, seek­ing the re­moval of Speaker P Dhana­pal. With this Madras High Court ver­dict, the fate of th­ese four leg­is­la­tors also hangs in bal­ance. Any in­crease in the num­ber of dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions will fur­ther in­crease the num­ber of seats that go for by-elec­tions. Any de­feat for the EPS group would make the sur­vival his govern­ment nearly im­pos­si­ble, given the po­lit­i­cal fragility in the rul­ing fac­tions of the AIADMK.

TTV Dhi­nakaran with 18 dis­qual­i­fied AIADMK MLAs

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