Status quo remains till the third judge pronounces the verdict.
The Madras High Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the disqualification of 18 dissident AIADMK MLAs owing allegiance to AMMK leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran. While Chief Justice Indira Banerjee favoured upholding Speaker P. Dhanapal’s decision to disqualify the dissident MLAs, Justice Sundar disagreed to it.
The matter will now be heard by a third judge. Since the Chief Justice has differed with the companion judge, the third judge will be nominated by Justice Huluvadi G. Ramesh. Till the third judge pronounces the verdict, no floor test will be conducted in the House.
On September 18, 2017, Mr. Dhanapal disqualified the 18 MLAs by exercising his powers under the 10th schedule to the Constitution (popularly known as the anti-defection law) and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on ground of defection) Rules of 1986.
The trigger for the disqualification proceedings was the meeting between the 18 petitioners (apart from MLA S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, who subsequently joined the ruling camp) and the then Governor (in-charge) C. Vidyasagar Rao on August 22, 2017, when the former gave identical representations to him “withdrawing their support” to the Chief Minister.
The meeting and subsequent press briefing by the MLAs prompted Chief Government Whip S. Rajendiran to petition the Speaker on August 24, praying for the disqualification of all 19 MLAs, saying their actions amounted to voluntarily giving up their membership of the AIADMK.
In their defence, the petitioners contended that mere submission of representations to the Governor would not amount to voluntarily giving up membership of the party. They also heavily relied upon a judgement passed by the Supreme Court in Balchandra L Jarkiholi versus B.S.Yeddiyurappa in 2011.
However, after receiving the comments of the Chief Minister and after completing the enquiry, the Speaker held that 18 out of the 19 MLAs were liable to be disqualified. Mr. Jakkaiyyan alone was let off since he met the speaker in person on September 17 and handed over a letter claiming that he was pressured to submit the representation to the Governor.
Thangatamilselvan (Andipatti constituency), R. Murugan (Harur), S. Mariappan Kennedy (Manamadurai), K. Karthirkamu (Periyakulam), C. Jayanthi Padmanabhan (Gudiyattam), P. Palaniappan (Pappireddipatti), V. Senthilbalaji (Aravakurichi), S. Muthiah (Paramakudi), P. Vetrivel (Perambur), N.G. Parthiban (Sholingur), M. Kothandapani (Tiruporur), T.A. Elumalai (Poonnamalee), M. Rengasamy (Thanjavur), R. Thangathurai (Nilakottai), R. Balasubramani (Ambur), Ethirkottai S.G. Subramanian (Sattur), R. Sundaraj (Ottapidaram) and K. Uma Maheswari (Vilathikulam) were disqualified.
They challenged the Speaker’s decision in the court.
How the numbers stack up
The ruling AIADMK has 116 members in the Assembly; the DMK – 89; the Congress – 8; Independent – 1 (T.T.V. Dhinakaran); besides the Speaker. There are 18 vacancies, and one nominated member (who is not eligible to vote).
Of the AIADMK legislators, three – E. Rathinasabapathy (Aranthangi), V.T. Kalaiselvan (Vridhachalam) and A. Prabhu (Kallakurichi) – have declared their support to Mr. Dhinakaran. Besides, three others – S. Karunaas (Tiruvadanai), Thamimun Ansari (Nagapattinam) and U. Thaniyarasu (Kangeyam) – were elected on the AIADMK ticket, despite being leaders of the Mukkolathor Pulippadai, the Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi and the Tamil Nadu Kongu Ilaignar Peravai respectively. The trio have not spelled out their political loyalties in clear terms.