CHENNAI: In a show of strength, the unified AIADMK led by Chief Minister K Palaniswami today held a meeting of its legislators and claimed the backing of 124 MLAs, including nine from the sidelined deputy chief TTV Dhinkaran's camp.
The assertion came after the meeting convened by Palaniswami amid persistent demand by the opposition for a floor test after rebellion by 21 MLAs loyal to Dhinakaran.
Senior minister and key supporter of the Chief Minister D Jayakumar told reporters that 111 MLAs attended the meeting expressing support to Palaniswami and signed the party register.
Nine MLAs from "that camp" (Dhinakaran faction) also extended support to the Chief Minister over phone, he claimed, emerging from the meeting held at party headquarters here.
Jayakumar said three MLAs of allied parties, who contested last year's assembly polls on AIADMK's Two Leaves symbol, have also pledged support to Palaniswami as also another party MLA who could not attend due to health reasons.
The three MLAs are: S Karunaas (Mukkulathor Pulipadai), M Thamimun Ansari (Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi) and U Thaniyarasu (Tamil Nadu Kongu Ilaignar Peravai).
However, the Dhinakaran camp, which has been pressing for replacement of Palaniswami, disputed the claim and dared them to name the nine MLAs.
It may be recalled that a group of 19 MLAs loyal to Dhinakaran had met Governor Ch Vidayasagar Rao on August 22 expressing lack of confidence in the Chief Minister.
This came a day after the merger of factions led by Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, presently the Deputy Chief Minister.
The internal strife in AIADMK prompted the opposition parties to claim that the Palaniswami government has lost majority and seek a floor test in the assembly.
In the 234-member assembly which has one seat vacant, the AIADMK has 134 MLAs excluding the Speaker while the DMK-led opposition has 98 legislators.
The presence of 111 MLAs at today's meeting is seen as a boost to Palaniswami, whose earlier meeting on August 28 reportedly witnessed less attendance with some reports even claiming that only around 75 MLAs took part in it.
Jayakumar claimed that though the nine pro-Dhinkaran MLAs were unable to take part in today's meet, they assured "their support for all the decisions and steps" (to be taken by Palaniswami).
Besides MLAs, the meeting was attended by party District Secretaries and MPs.
Incidentally, invitation had been extended to all the AIADMK MLAs, including the rebels who are staying put in neighbouring Puducherry since revolting against Palaniswami.
Jayakumar said Peravurani MLA, M Govindarasu, though could not take part in the meeting due to his indisposition, spoke to the Chief Minister over phone and pledged his support.
He termed as 'historic' the decision of the MLAs (to support Palaniswami) and said hopes of some to thrust election on people had been dashed.
Besides the MLAs' meeting, separate deliberations were held with district secretaries and MPs in which the participation can be termed "even 100 per cent", he said.
He said only two district secretaries could not attend the meet due to some reasons, though they confirmed participation in the general council meet, slated for September 12.
"Detractors" (Dhinakaran camp MLAs) will not be pardoned by the people and they cannot go to their constituencies as well, he said in reply to a question.
When asked if jailed party general secretary V K Sasikala will be removed from the post at the Sept 12 general council meeting, he said it will not be proper to comment on the proposed deliberations of the meeting.
Questioning the claim of the ruling group, a key Dhinakaran loyalist, Thangatamilselvan, MLA, dared them to come up with the names of those nine legislators.
He also said: "If Governor does not quickly taken a decision in two days, we will decide on our next move."
Another prominent Dhinakaran camp leader and former Minister P Palaniappan said the attendance in today's meet was by itself a "proof" that the government was in a minority.
"Governor would have come to know that he (Palaniswami) does not have majority," he said claiming that Palaniswami ceased to have the locus standi to be the Chief Minister.
Palaniappan said "we expect" that the Governor will fix a date for Palaniswami to prove his majority in assembly.
DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, M K Stalin said Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao should immediately order a floor test and direct Palaniswami to prove his majority.
Quoting some media reports, he said only 109 MLAs attended the meeting.