Madras HC split on AIADMK MLAs' disqualification, Palaniswami govt safe

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswami | Photo: PTI
A two-judge bench of the Madras High Court delivered a split verdict on Thursday on the disqualification of 18 AIADMK lawmakers considered close to sidelined leader TTV Dhinakaran.

While Chief Justice Indira Banerjee upheld Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker’s disqualification order, Justice Sundar declared it invalid. Now, the opinion of another senior judge will be sought in the case. The court also said no by-election will be held till the case was decided.

The MLAs, who were disqualified on defection charges last September, had challenged in the court the move against them by Speaker P Dhanapal.    

Thursday’s developments mean status quo is maintained in the southern state where E Palaniswami’s government took charge in February 2017 with the help of Dhinakaran, who was later ostracised by the ruling AIADMK.  

But later that year, the 18 MLAs sparked a potential crisis in Tamil Nadu, which saw a prolonged spell of political uncertainty after the December 2016 death of CM J Jayalalithaa.

The disgruntled group moved to desert Palaniswami amid a bitter power struggle between the AIADMK’s ruling faction and Dhinakaran, who is the nephew of Jayalalithaa aide Sasikala.

Had the court quashed the speaker’s order, it could have thrown fresh challenges at the Palaniswami government and bolstered Dhinakaran’s camp.

“The longevity of the anti-people government now gets extended by a couple of months. It is not at all a setback to us. We got 50 per cent victory,” Dhinakaran said, adding all 18 MLAs were still backing him.

Although the ruling AIADMK appears confident about its majority, the opposition DMK says the Palaniswami government lacks the numbers because of the disqualification of the rebel MLAs.

Of the 235 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, one seat is reserved for a nominated member. The AIADMK has 116 members, DMK 89, Congress eight and the IUML one. There is an independent member in the House even as the 18 AIADMK MLAs stand disqualified. 

Altogether 19 legislators had submitted a letter to the governor, withdrawing support to the CM. Later, one of them switched over to the Palaniswami camp.

Hours before Thursday's court developments, Tamil Nadu Advocate General Vijay Narayanan met Palaniswami. On the other hand, the disqualified lawmakers met Dhinakaran.

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