In other words, Saturday could be a ‘D’ day for the rebel MLAs in O Panneerselvam camp if Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy, who has the difficult job of keeping his MLAs intact for another two days to head Fort St George, manages to do so.
With their factional lord Panneerselvam getting nowhere near the ‘required’ numbers to engineer a vertical split inside the Assembly, the rebel MLAs have the odds heavily stacked against them. Should they choose to demonstrate their loyalty to OPS in violation of the diktat of the government’s chief whip Manoharan when Palanisamy seeks a vote of confidence in the House, they even run the risk of losing their MLAs status, courtesy the anti-defection law, which mandates that any faction ought to have 2/3rd number of MLAs. Perhaps, they could take the counsel of fellow rebel in OPS camp and former Assembly Speaker P H Pandian, who in 1987 had disqualified 33 MLAs of Jayalalithaa camp for voting against then chief minister V N Janaki, wife of late MG Ramachandran, against the order of then chief government whip during the vote of confidence.
State Congress president Su Thirunavukkarasar, one of the few leaders who had ‘guarded’ Jayalalithaa’s MLAs back then, says; “I expect the Assembly to be convened in a few days. If whip issues an order, it should be accepted by all AIADMK MLAs. Action can be taken against any MLA who violates the order or boycotts the test in violation of the whip’s order.” Echoing his views, retired bureaucrat M G Devasaghayam said; “Ten is too small a number. Only if another 10 MLAs desert the incumbent CM and joins Panneerselvam, the stability of the government will be at stake. Indeed, the MLAs can legally challenge the disqualification, if the Speaker so does, but I don’t think the court can offer much relief. I don’t think they will go to that extent. It is nothing but tough posturing by MLAs.”
Notably, again it would be the numbers that could save the contenders. With Palanisamy’s numbers hovering tantalisingly close to the simple majority of 117, he would not risk disqualifying the rebels, which, if it were daringly done, could jeopardize the stability of his government, about which doubts aplenty have already been raised.
That the new CM would not do anything rash and compromise the numbers could be comprehended from Parliament deputy speaker M Thambidurai’s statement on Thursday morning that they have the support of all MLAs except OPS. “Only Panneerselvam has been expelled from the party. We have the support of the rest,” he remarked when his comments were sought to quantify their Assembly strength. Though some OPS loyalists would have people to believe that Palanisamy would not survive the vote of confidence, party insiders suggest that the tough posturing by a few MLAs was temporary and they could not afford to fall apart and risk losing the opportunity to rule for another four years.
A source in the government also suggested a cabinet reshuffle in the near future to satisfy the disgruntled AIADMK legislators.Immediately after he proves majority on the floor, Palanisamy might even divest a couple of his key portfolios to ex-ministers like Senthil Balaji and even allocate a ‘lucrative’ portfolio to K A Sengottaiyan who has currently been given school education ministry.