CHENNAI: The absence of DMK president M Karunanidhi, one of the senior most legislators in the country, was noted on Monday after a majority of his party’s MLAs – including his son and opposition leader, MK Stalin – were suspended for a week by the Speaker. This, however, was anything but unusual in Tamil Nadu Assembly where opposition leaders seldom attend the sessions.
This is possible because signing the register kept outside the Assembly hall is considered as attendance - according to Rule 20 (1) of Chapter V of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the Assembly constituency could be declared vacant if a member abstains from all sessions for 60 days. Signing the register once in two months effectively takes care of that part.
The first instance was in 1972 when matinee idol and MLA MG Ramachandran rebelled against his friend-turned-foe, then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. During the session in December that year, MGR moved a no-confidence motion against then Speaker KA Mathialagan. He reportedly spoke for nearly two hours even after his mike was cut, but was not recorded.
After his attempt failed, he famously declared that he would return to the House only as the Chief Minister. He did exactly that – but till that happened in the next Assembly election in 1977, he simply signed the register kept outside the Assembly hall for four years.
Leading the party after his death, present Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa did the same after she was manhandled inside the Assembly in 1989. Like MGR, she too took a vow, and stormed to power in 1991. Karunanidhi’s DMK won only two seats in the election including that of the leader himself; Karunanidhi resigned from the seat.
Five years later, it was the DMK’s turn to score a decisive victory. The AIADMK won only four in the 1996 polls, and Jaya stayed away. As power changed hands yet again, it was Karunanidhi’s turn to stay away in 2001-06.
One of the rarest meeting of the top leaders of the State happened in 2006 when the Speaker suspended the entire opposition after an acrimonious session. The next day, Jaya took centre-stage as the solitary opposition member against the DMK government.
It did look like the practise would change after Jaya, in alliance with DMDK, returned to power in 2011. With the DMK relegated to the third position, DMDK was declared the principal opposition party, and its founder-leader Vijayakant became the Opposition Leader. However, as much as it changed, it remained the same. ‘Captain’ stayed away after the customary first session; when he attended, it led to a sharp exchange of words between him and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, which eventually led to the suspension of a few DMDK members including Vijayakant.
This time, with the DMK and allies Congress and IUML winning 98 seats, unprecedented for an opposition party in several decades, Stalin was elected the Opposition Leader and has been attending all the sessions. However, the patriarch continued to stay away; DMK alleges that the Assembly failed to make any arrangements for the wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi inside the House.
Incidentally, the last time Karunanidhi visited the House was on August 16, a day before the majority of his MLAs were suspended, to sign the register. But Tiruvarur, the constituency that sent the son of its soil to the Assembly, have not had an opportunity to be heard inside the House. Election after election, this has been the fate of all VIP seats that elected the leader of the opposition.