Post-Merger, EPS On Tenterhooks

To obviate the discomfiture of reduced majority, the ruling clique has invoked the Anti-Defection Act, requesting Speaker P. Dhanapal to disqualify the 19 MLAs.

CHENNAI: Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) is perhaps destined to be always on tenterhooks. With a view to sidelining the protégés of AIADMK’s acting general secretary V.K. Sasikala, now in Bengaluru prison, he undertook hard bargaining with former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam (OPS) for a merger of their respective factions labeled as Amma and Puratchi Thalaivi Amma, and succeeded to a great extent, too. But in the process, a new faction has emerged with 19 party MLAs supporting deputy general secretary T.T.V. Dhinakaran. These legislators lost no time in personally handing over individual letters to the acting Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao withdrawing their support to the EPS Ministry.

According to latest developments, two more MLAs of the ruling dispensation have crossed over to the Dhinakaran camp. Owing to this development, the EPS Ministry has lost its slender majority in the 234-member State Assembly (one seat vacant). Of the claim of 117 supporters, the attitude of three MLAs of friendly parties who have won on the AIADMK symbol is still uncertain.

To obviate the discomfiture of reduced majority, the ruling clique has invoked the Anti-Defection Act, requesting Speaker P. Dhanapal to disqualify the 19 MLAs who have submitted their letters to the Governor, as “they have ceased to be members of the ruling party”. The Speaker has since issued notices to them on this score and sought their explanation in a week’s time. According to impartial
observers, that would create greater uncertainty in governance. Alongside back-channel negotiations are going on with the MLA supporting Dhinakaran, but the latter group is adamant in their demand that EPS must resign as Chief Minister.

The Governor dashed to Chennai on Monday last following the merger of the EPS and the OPS factions, to be in time for the swearing-in of OPS as Deputy Chief Minister and ‘Ma Foi’ Pandiarajan as Minister for Tamil Language and Culture. After the ceremony as he was planning to fly back to Mumbai, the 19 Dhinakaran loyalists met him and impressed on him the need to initiate the constitutional process as the EPS Ministry had lost its majority. Vidyasagar Rao merely accepted the letters promising “due consideration”. The Governor is expected to be in Chennai any time now, and all eyes on what he intends doing in the current context.

Dhinakaran, who described the merger as “betrayal of the party discipline by selfish people”, directed the loyalists to retire to a resort in Puducherry, fearing poaching by the ruling clique, reminiscent of the Koovathur episode wherein 122 party MLAs were literally held captive by the Sasikala group to keep OPS out of power, thus enabling the elevation of EPS as Chief Minister. Though sideling, he asserted his position as deputy general secretary by replacing a number of district level party functionaries.

The latest pot-shot at the EPS Ministry has come from Dhivakaran, brother of Sasikala and who has made up his differences with Dhinakaran, proposing that Dhanapal be made the Chief Minister replacing EPS and keeping out OPS to restore the majority for the ministry in the House. This is a clever move of playing the Dalit card, since Dhanapal belongs to the Arundathiyar (SC) community. Should the move materialise, he would be the first Dalit Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

But both EPS and OPS are unfazed by the machinations of Dhinakaran and assert that the ‘Amma ministry’ would complete its full term, i.e. up to 2021, and retain power thereafter also. Jointly addressing the birth centenary celebrations of the party founder, M.G.Ramachandran, at Ariyalur on Wednesday, they underplayed Dhinakaran’s capability to dislodge the present ministry.

The merger discussions between EPS and OPS factions remained protracted, because of Panneerselvam’s insistence on becoming Chief Minister or party general secretary after removing Sasikala from that position. Since that required the party general council’s approval, Palaniswami pleaded for patience on this point. He, however, accepted two major demand that a judicial inquiry should be ordered into the circumstances that led to Jayalalithaa’s demise. Here, too, the OPS faction wanted a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Chief Minister assured the other faction that the retired judge himself could seek a CBI probe. Palaniswami also accepted the demand for converting the Poes Garden residence of Jaayalalithaa, which is now occupied by the cronies of Sasikala, would be converted into a memorial. In the larger interests of the party founded by MGR and nurtured by Jayalalithaa, Panneerselvam agreed to be the deputy CM holding a good number of key portfolios, including Finance.

Meanwhile, all Opposition parties, including the DMK, are demanding that the Governor direct the Chief Minister to prove his majority in the House at the latest. Leader of the Opposition M.K. Stalin has written two letters to Vidyasagar Rao seeking a floor test by the EPS ministry to prove its majority. Stalin, in his strong statements to the media, gives the impression that he is hell-bent on the removal of the EPS ministry. He has also threatened to take the issue to the President, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind, to intervene and end the political imbroglio in Tamil Nadu, should the Governor dilly-dally on the matter. Leaders of other parties like the Pattali Makkal Katchi (Ramadoss), Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (Vijayakanth), Marumalarchi DMK (Vaiko), Viduthalai Chirutthaigal Katchi (Tirumavalavan), Communist Party of India and CPI (Marxist), which have no representation in the Assembly, are also demanding a floor test. The State BJP leaders like Union Shipping Minister Pon Ramalingam and Rajya Sabha member Ila Ganesan, however, are favouring the continuance of the rule by the present government till the next general elections.

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