Why Madras High Court verdict on disqualification of 18 MLAs is a shot in the arm for AIADMK
The order now cements Edappadi K Palaniswami's position as one of the strongest leaders in the AIADMK.
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On February 16, 2017, when Edappadi K Palaniswami took oath as the 29th chief minister of Tamil Nadu, many were surprised. Despite being in the top five of the state cabinet, Palaniswami always maintained a low profile. Though he had a dramatic rise in the ranks of AIADMK he was not a popular leader like his bête noire O Paneerselvam.
As he took over the reins of the ruling party there were many bets placed on how long EPS (as he is popularly known) would survive the rough and tumble of the seat of power at Fort St George. In the past one and half years the government has been hit by a trust vote, scams, infighting, electoral defeat and investigation by the CBI at the chief minister’s doorstep. Through it all, EPS steered the AIADMK to keep it afloat.
The Madras High court order upholding the disqualification of 18 legislators comes as a shot in the arm for EPS, who has now cemented his position as one of the strongest leaders in the AIADMK. Though critics might view this as a temporary breather, the verdict is a morale boost for the rank and file of the party. EPS will ride on the momentum to assert his control over the government and the party.
With 20 seats vacant the strength of the Tamil Nadu assembly is reduced from 234 to 214. The AIADMK with 115 legislators is well above the half way mark of 107. The verdict will further bolster the position of the ruling party if they have to negotiate with the BJP for an alliance in the near future.
However, the prospect of facing by-polls to the 20 seats will be a nightmare for the AIADMK. The RK Nagar by-poll exposed the AIADMK’s inability to put up an electoral fight. In a post-Jayalalithaa scenario, the mandate for the party has vastly changed.
Walking on a wafer thin majority, the Madras High court judgment saved the EPS government from an immediate crisis. Though EPS puts on a brave face, the by elections will be an acid test for the party. The beleaguered AIADMK will have to fight it out with a resurgent DMK and rebel TTV Dhinakaran waiting to pounce back with a vengeance.
The verdict gives time for EPS to regroup and strategise to keep the party in power till its original tenure of 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
Not to forget the new entrants from tinsel town – Rajnikanth and Kamalhassan who are yet to formally announce their decision on contesting in the by-polls.
Going by past experiences, the ruling party has had an advantage in bypolls. With entire state machinery at their disposal critics do not rule out a repeat of the infamous election formula in Thirumangalam and Pennagaram by-polls.
The verdict gives time for EPS to regroup and strategise to keep the party in power till its original tenure of 2021. Though it may be a daunting task political pundits opine the by-elections in Tamil Nadu will be a referendum on the political climate that prevails in the state.
“The respite from the Madras High Court may be short lived for EPS. They cannot write off TTV Dhinakaran who is emerging popular than the present dispensation in the eyes of the public. Till the party tastes electoral victory, EPS and senior leaders of the party will be untested political entities” quips Narayan Lakshman, associate editor of The Hindu.
In the wake of the verdict, the biggest challenge for TTV Dhinakaran would be to hold on to the 18 legislators and the support of the 4 rebel MLA’s who owed their allegiance to him. Out of power for 14 months will the MLAs chose to be on the losing side is a possibility many do not rule out. The threat of EPS poaching the MLAs by offering them plum posts in the party will worry Dhinakaran.
A shrewd politician, TTV Dhinakaran was smiling to the cameras and called the verdict as an experience in politics. The rebel AIADMK leader finds him in the back foot as he fights to wrest control of the party from the present leadership.
While Dhinakaran preferred to go in for by-elections, the disqualified MLAs have decided to appeal against the verdict in the apex court. Subsequently, they will also contest the by-elections whenever they are held.
Senior journalist, R Subramanian, has said that it would have been politically prudent for Dhinakaran to face polls than go in for an appeal. “The verdict is indeed a setback for Dhinakaran but in the longer run it will help him. During campaign for RK Nagar he changed the tide in his favor with his political acumen. He is reaching out to the public on a regular basis with his meetings and road shows. There is a support base but whether that will turn into votes remain to be seen. But it’s a risk he should take if he is willing to topple the government”, he said.