Tamil Nadu is frothing with resort politics once again, with some of the all-important political entities – elected MLAs – herded into a luxury resort at Courtallam in Tirunelveli of South Tamil Nadu. This time too, minding the 18 disqualified AIADMK MLAs, whose term might come alive if the Madras High Court nullifies their disqualification, is AIADMK breakaway leader and founder of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, TTV Dhinakaran.
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Last year too, when former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam revolted and posed a threat against his aunt and the then party general secretary VK Sasikala, Dhinakaran brought his ‘prized possessions’ to a resort located some 550 km from Chennai.
What is significant in that Dhinakaran’s latest move is that three AIADMK MLAs broke ranks with the ruling party and are camping with the 18 disqualified AIADMK MLAs.
Now, this is bad news for Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami and his government. More bad news could be in store with two ministers and few MLAs said to be in touch with Dhinakaran, working behind the scenes to unseat
the chief minister, who is surviving with a wafer-thin majority in the assembly.
Coming ahead of a crucial judgment on the petition challenging the disqualification of the 18 MLAs, the emergence in the open of three AIADMK MLAs is being seen as muscle flexing by Dhinakaran. These 18 MLAs had sided with Dhinakaran and sought a change in leadership in the government in a memorandum to the then acting governor Vidyasagar Rao.
They were subsequently disqualified by the Speaker P Dhanapal. It is a petition challenging this whose judgment is reserved and can be pronounced any day.
Why this judgment becomes important is that the verdict will have a direct bearing on the well-being of the AIADMK government. If the disqualification is quashed, then the government will be in minority in the assembly.
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It is because of this, Dhinakaran timed his resort politics, in consultation with his jailed aunt Sasikala now serving time in Bangalore prison after her conviction in a disproportionate assets case. His intentions are very clear: to force a change in leadership by threating to bring down the government. What he wants is the replacement of the Chief Minister. This is something next to impossible, according to political analysts.
The only person, who can help Dhinakaran, opposition leader and DMK president MK Stalin who can bring a no-confidence motion in the government. But, it is doubtful whether Stalin would play ball with Dhinakaran. The trust factor is missing. Chennai-based political analyst Prof Ravindran Duraisamy.
If Dhinakaran meets Stalin along with all his MLAs, may be Stalin could consider. “But it is doubtful if Stalin would oblige Dhinakaran,” he said.
Stalin has, anyway, stepped up his campaign against the chief minister on host of issues, most notably focusing on his alleged corruption in granting of contracts in national highway projects. Besides other scams that are being exposed.
For Stalin, forcing a mid-term polls to state assembly would be the more preferred option, he said. Which is why, Stalin is chipping away at the government with a sustained campaign on the chief minister’s alleged corruption and mis-governance.
Under seize from all directions, Palaniswami is fighting rear guard action and is said to have made inroads into opposition camp as well. Sources in AIADMK would like people to believe that few opposition MLAs could cross vote in any trial of strength on the floor of assembly. If at all, it comes to that.
Meanwhile, the Courtallam resort drama has refreshed memories of all AIADMK MLAs kept under the watchful eyes of the then party general secretary VK Sasikala and her nephew Dhinakaran in 2016, shortly after former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam revolted against the party leadership that was keen to install Sasikala as the chief minister.
Fate intervened and Sasikala had instead to step aside to serve time in Bangalore prison after the Supreme Court upheld her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
But all through the political drama sparked off by Panneerselvam’s revolt till Palaniswami won the trust vote in February last year, all the AIADMK MLAs (it was united then) were kept confined in a luxury resort at Koovathur, some 50 km from Chennai.
“This is another Koovathur moment in TN politics,” said Prof Ramu Manivannan of Madras University. A lot of money could be changing hands, he said.
The DMK has 98 members in its coalition – 89 of its own, eight of the Congress and one IUML in the assembly cannot hope to form a government under any circumstances. Which is why Stalin is gunning for fresh elections in which the DMK stands to gain in a two-way split in AIADMK vote. It may be recalled that in the 2016 general elections, Jayalalithaa managed to split votes against her party in different directions.
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The DMK came close but not close enough to unseat her. As against the 41 per cent vote share of AIADMK, the DMK alliance partners totted up a vote share of 39 per cent in the 2016 assembly elections. If the DMK had managed to rope in a few allies like Captain Vijayakanth, the race would have been even tighter and the result different.