A split verdict on the disqualification of 18 AIADMK rebel lawmakers by Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal found the ruling party led by Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K Palaniswami grinning from ear to ear. While Chief Justice Indira Banerjee upheld the September 18 order of the Speaker, Justice M Sundar struck it down, necessitating the naming of a third judge to decide the case.
As the third judge’s verdict could easily take a few more months, status quo shall continue for now. With no by-elections and no fresh floor test till the matter is adjudicated, the government could not have asked for more. Also, irrespective of the final outcome, one can expect the aggrieved party to go on appeal, giving the chief minister that much more room for manoeuvre.
When he assumed office as chief minister on February 16 last year, observers saw in Palaniswami a greenhorn who would not be able to continue in the hot seat for more than a few weeks. His tenure began with the split and subsequent merger of the O Panneerselvam group, which triggered a fresh split, this time by the T T V Dhinakaran faction and the disqualification of 18 lawmakers. All along, Palaniswami showed he was no pushover. Indeed, he has mastered the art of political survival.
After Thursday’s tiebreaker verdict, Dhinakaran claimed all the 18 disqualified lawmakers were solidly behind him. Sixteen of them met him in person and the other two called him on the phone to reiterate their support, he said. Yet, no party is ready for snap Assembly elections and the ruling side could be expected to work on some of the rebel MLAs to seek the Speaker’s pardon and switch camps.
Also, by the time the third judge’s verdict is out, centripetal and centrifugal forces ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections could be at work, influencing the political dynamics in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister Palaniswami finds himself in a win-win situation. As for the 18 constituencies of the rebels, their wait for getting represented in the Assembly just got longer.