"Governor does not side with any party and he is guided only by the Constitutional provisions and their interpretations contained in case laws. Governor will uphold ideals of democracy and values of the Constitution.”
These are the concluding lines from a private three-page note said to contain Tamil Nadu Governor Vidyasagar Rao's perspective on the political imbroglio that has gripped the state for the past one week. It was important that Rao reiterated what he is expected to do, because the jury is out on whether he is taking the right legal and constitutional path.
By making it clear that he will not swear in VK Sasikala as the chief minister, despite her claims of holding the support of a majority in the AIADMK legislature party, Rao has bestowed on himself the role of the Third Umpire. He has kept the 'decision pending' – to use cricket parlance – on the screen since Monday now.
The problem with this is that the Constitution of India does not give the governor authority to bulldoze the collective wish of the legislature party. He can be a discerning judge of the situation and ask the CM to prove his or her majority on the floor of the House. What is happening now is that numbers are being sought to prove a majority for O Panneerselvam, at his home on Greenways Road.
Rao, citing no precedent to the situation in Tamil Nadu, has decided to do a Rajinikanth-like "En vazhi, thanee vazhi'' (My way is my own way). Taking refuge in the verdict of a disproportionate assets case against Sasikala, that is due next week, Rao doubts "whether she will be in a position to contest elections to get elected as a legislator within six months." Sources say the thinking is that, "in view of the impending judgment in the DA case, an uncertainty exists about the qualification of Sasikala to become an MLA."
It is a strange observation because it almost suggests that the governor believes that she will be convicted. He forgets that Sasikala, along with the late Jayalalithaa, were acquitted by the Karnataka High Court in May 2015. It seems like a case of reverse jurisprudence – that Sasikala is guilty till proven innocent.
The governor also strangely takes note of a couple of public interest litigations (PILs) that have been filed in the Supreme Court, against extending an invite to Sasikala to form the government. It is common knowledge that such legal tricks are routinely carried out by rivals to put a spanner in the works. For the governor to cite that as a reason to deny Sasikala the invite is to pre-judge the order of the court on these PILs and behave as if the SC has imposed a stay on her swearing-in ceremony.
This post is not meant to make a case for Sasikala as chief minister; but, let it be said that Tamil Nadu 2017 will set a precedent that will be followed elsewhere. Where governors, either acting on their own or under directions of the Union Home ministry, will lord over the collective will of the people, expressed through their representatives, the legislators.
Rao's interpretation of the situation makes everyone suspect the intentions of the Centre. He has made it clear that he would wait for a few days so that a clear picture can emerge. This has no doubt given time to Panneerselvam. With Rao seemingly not inclined to invite Sasikala, the message to her camp followers has gone out loud and clear. Some of the MLAs have woken up and smelt the Chennai filter kaapi. The fact that Saturday has seen two MPs and the Education Minister K Pandiarajan jumping ship, suggests that the strategy is working.
For years, the Congress was accused of misusing the Raj Bhavan to unsettle governments belonging to the opposition. The BJP, the Sasikala camp feels, has taken a leaf out of the Congress book. The manner in which the Centre has not appointed a full-time governor since K Rosaiah retired in September last year, keeping the situation tentative and tense, has also faced criticism.
But it is not as if the Sasikala camp is playing it all fair. By treating her MLAs like a flock of sheep, keeping them 60 km away from Chennai at a resort, Sasikala has allegedly resorted to intimidation tactics. This ploy, so ill-advised, has dented her credibility as a leader and reinforced the fear factor with which the Mannargudi family is reported to have its way. However, reports have also emerged that many of the legislators have told Kancheepuram police who entered the resort on Saturday that they have not been kept there under duress.
Not that the governor has got it all wrong. The one credible doubt that Rao has had is over the fact that the resolution of the AIADMK legislature party electing Sasikala as the leader, on the basis of which she staked claim, was proposed by Panneerselvam himself. Now with the proposer of the resolution not among the MLAs supporting Sasikala, there are grounds to suspect whether the other signatories too have backed out. Panneerselvam already has sown the seeds of doubt by complaining to the governor that many of the signatures are fake.
On Saturday afternoon, Sasikala wrote to the governor, asking him to act fast in the interest of the state. She also sought time to meet him along with all of her legislators. Later addressing her party men, she issued what sounded like a veiled threat. She said, "Only to an extent, we will be patient. After that, we will do what we have to do.''
A combination perhaps of nervousness and acceptance of the fact that the ground is slipping from under her feet, and anger at what Sasikala thinks is her right.
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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2017 18:14:24 IST