AIADMK crisis: Between Sasikala and Panneerselvam, 'wait and watch' would have been best

The Indian Constitution is very clear on the appointment of a chief minister. Though it allows the governor some amount of discretion, it is an established convention to invite the leader of the majority party to form the next government.

The established law makes the position of acting Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam untenable in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. On Monday, legislators of the AIADMK elected VK Sasikala as their leader and conveyed the decision to the governor. In accordance with the decision, Panneerselvam resigned to make way for the new leader.

Under normal circumstances, the governor would have had no option but to swear-in Sasikala as the next chief minister. The AIADMK has a clear majority in the house and Sasikala has the support of the MLAs. But, governor Vidyasagar Rao has managed to stall her by staying out of Chennai.

VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam

VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam

The Centre, it is obvious, is buying time till the Supreme Court announces its verdict in the disproportionate case verdict against former chief minister J Jayalalithaa (sometimes her name is spelt as Jayalalitha). Sasikala, who is a co-accused in the case, will get barred from holding any constitutional position if she is found guilty. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre is trying to keep her away till the verdict is announced, possibly next week.

With his sudden revolt and volte-face, leading to the withdrawal of his resignation, Panneerselvam has queered the pitch for Sasikala. It is not clear how many legislators would support him. The initial reports indicated Sasikala has the support of all the 136 AIADMK legislators. So, unless he manages to split the party — he would need the support of at least 2/3rd of the MLAs —Panneerselvam will not survive. But, with his revolt, he may have also bought time for the Centre to deal with Sasikala.

Can the governor ask Panneerselvam to stay and prove his majority in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly? Can he act in spite of the AIADMK decision to elect Sasikala as the new leader?

In recent history, there have been two instances of elected chief ministers getting sacked by their own legislators. The most recent one was in Arunachal Pradesh where Congress chief minister Nabam Tuki lost the confidence of his own legislators, leading to a revolt and later en masse defection of Congress legislators. But, the most famous case of a chief minister booted out by his own party was that of Bihar's Jeetan Ram Manjhi. And the Manjhi precedent might dictate the script in this case too.

When Manjhi was sacked by his own party JD(U), the governor allowed him to prove his majority on the floor of the Bihar Assembly. Manjhi faced the house with the support of BJP legislators and the hope of engineering massive defections in the JD(U). But, in the end, he lost out to his mentor Nitish Kumar because the JD(U) rallied behind him.

It is difficult to understand the Centre's game plan in Chennai. It is evident that the BJP needs the support of the AIADMK in the Parliament and for electing the next president. But, the long-term implications of its strategy could be counter-productive if Sasikala manages to usurp Panneerselvam and continues to cling to it if the Supreme Court acquits her. A vindictive Sasikala could be a difficult adversary for the BJP.

Also, even if Sasikala is ousted after getting indicted by the Supreme Court, Panneerselvam would find it difficult to survive in the party after his revolt. Sasikala's bloodless coup suggests she has an iron grip over the party and its legislators. Even if she doesn't become the chief minister, she would ensure Panneerselvam meets Manjhi's fate.

Perhaps the best strategy to deal with Sasikala would have been to give her a long rope. Acting on the advice of the AIADMK legislators, the governor could have sworn her in, leaving her fate to the SC. An indictment would have been a major embarrassment for Sasikala. It would have turned her into an object of ridicule and scorn.

Even if she were to be acquitted by the apex court, the Centre could have read the writing on the wall in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK cadres are extremely angry with Sasikala and are opposed to her bid for power. In six months, Sasikala would have had to face an election. The inner contradictions of the ruling party could have proved politically fatal for Sasikala.

In the end, every stakeholder in Tamil Nadu seems to be making the same error: acting in haste instead of waiting for the drama to unfold on its own and democracy to have its say. When impatience becomes the theme of political drama, the results could be disastrous for all the dramatis personae — including the prima donna, the rebel and the men pulling the strings from behind the curtain.

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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2017 11:37:31 IST

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