Let the TN House Elect New Leader
The morally right course is fresh elections
It is tempting for the ruling party at the Centre to fish in the troubled waters of Tamil Nadu politics and hope to come up with a catch, following Sasikala’s conviction by the Supreme Court and O Panneerselvam’s claim to be chief minister being contested by a Sasikala nominee. While that is a natural political instinct, its articulation cannot be at the expense of the people of Tamil Nadu and their right to have a stable, elected government. The Centre must instruct the governor — let us forget the fiction that the governor is an independent agent exercising his judicious discretion over multiple uncertainties — and instruct him to convene the Tamil Nadu assembly and ask it to elect a leader, whom he would appoint as the next chief minister.
There is no need for the governor to break his head over who should be asked to prove his majority in the House, Panneerselvam or Palaniswami, hand-picked by Sasikala to hold the office of chief minister on her behalf. Let the elected representatives of the people of Tamil Nadu directly indicate in whom they repose confidence to lead the state. Any other course would be a travesty of the people’s mandate. The people’s mandate went to a party leader whom the Supreme Court has found guilty of conspiring to amass illegal wealth. Sasikala’s conviction is for conspiring not just with her family members but also with the late chief minister. Had Jayalalithaa been alive, she would have had to not just resign but contemplate the validity of an electoral mandate that did not factor in her culpability in amassing illegal wealth. The democratically most apposite course is to hold fresh elections straight away, rather than to inflict on the people of Tamil Nadu the straggling legacy of a mandate whose legitimacy has been drained out of it by the Supreme Court ruling.
While that would be the right thing to do, it would fall foul of technical propriety, which demands, in the face of a live, elected House, to choose a chief minister from among the legislators. The governor should let the legislators do precisely that, without batting for the Centre.