The high-decibel political drama unfolding in Tamil Nadu ended on Thursday as the governor has formally invited Sasikala loyalist E Palaniswami to form the government and the swearing-in ceremony is scheduled at 4:30 pm. Governor C Vidyasagar Rao has also given a 15-day time period to Palaniswami to prove his majority in the Assembly.
The political slugfest that saw huge U-turns, dramatic spill of emotions, and a virtual split within the ruling party in the southern Indian state, has ended on its 11th day.
The day also marked an unceremonious end of the mini rebellion staged by the former chief minister O Panneerselvam, who was largely looked upon as an amicable but meek leader only put on the throne to function as a rubber stamp chief minister while Jayalalithaa pulled the real strings.
How the crisis unfolded
The dramatic developments of this day take us back to the evening of 7 February, when O Panneerselvam headed to the Jayalalithaa memorial in a surprise move and announced his rebellion later. Eyes closed in meditation and with remarkable composure on his face, Panneerselvam spent a good 40 minutes at Jayalalithaa's memorial as curious onlookers gathered around and word quickly spread amid media circles that a big story could be in the making.
Shortly afterwards, what happened was a huge shock. Pannerselvam, the token chief minister, who was rushed onto the state secretariat every time a crisis threatened to swallow the AIADMK government, or whenever 'Amma' was in distress, had rebelled.
Many guessed that vested interests, predominantly from the central government, could be pulling the political hamstrings in the state that inspired Panneerselvam to rebel. For he never had the numbers — the supreme force the governor and the Constitution reckons with whenever there is a political crisis in the state's Assembly.
When Panneerselvam broke free from the Sasikala camp, alleging foul play in the circumstances that led to Amma's death, he stood alone. Even as slowly, a few more supporters trickled in as the crisis reached its climax, OPS never could claim the support of more than 10/11 MLAs.
Meanwhile, the knee-jerk reaction coming out from the Sasikala camp was to round up all the MLAs and lodge them at various resorts across the state, cutting them off from the media.
Panneerselvam camp alleged abduction and the Governor surprisingly delayed the whole process, giving enough time to the caretaker chief minister to strengthen his side.
Governer C Vidyasagar Rao first conceded to turn back his resignation, which he had already accepted. He then waited for the Supreme Court verdict on the disproportionate asset case, wherein Sasikala was found guilty and sent to jail. All this while, the Sasikala camp was claiming majority and experts opined — including BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who was also the petitioner in the DA case — that the governor, as per the Constitution, did not have the right to take a moral standing and was supposed to swear-in whoever could prove the majority.
What happens to Panneerselvam
His formal position, after the announcement, is that he will move a Motion of No Confidence in the Assembly when the floor test will happen, but it remains to be seen whether he can win more support from the Sasikala camp in the next 15 days.
"The fight has not yet ended," a defiant Panneerselvam was quoted by CNN-News18 as saying.
However, AIADMK is no longer the party that Panneerselvam knew under 'Amma', where he was revered and supported as a Jayalalithaa loyalist. The new party is a close-knit clan of Sasikala sycophants and Mannargudi clan's supporters, and Panneerselvam stands expelled from it at present. This doesn't leave many options open for the Jayalalithaa loyalist.
He could split the AIADMK with the support of at least two-third legislators, which at least at present, eludes him.
In this case, the anti-defection law will ensure that Panneerselvam remains under the control of Sasikala's party, as Sandipan Sharma points out in this Firstpost article. If Panneerselvam wants to retain his seat as a legislator, neither he nor his followers can disobey a party whip, which will be issued sooner or later to support Palaniswami's government. The anti-defection law kicks in when a legislator tries to join another party or defy a party whip.
Or Panneerselvam can attempt a reconciliation with the Sasikala camp and go back to being the loyal servant, provided the latter is willing to have him back and at what terms.
Pannerselvam's attempt at rebellion could have ended badly for him, and may well mark the end of his career, but it confirmed the word on the street that the Mannargudi clan indeed was pulling the strings since the post-Jaya period.
It all came to an end only on Thursday, when news broke out that the governor has formally invited Sasikala's pick to formally be sworn-in as the Tamil Nadu chief minister, however, a tame ending to the Panneerselvam rebellion was already in the making since Tuessday, 14 February. That was the day when Sasikala, after being convicted, named her loyalist to take over as the chief minister, and handed over the reins of the party to her kin TTV Dinakaran. The legal roadblock of having a tainted chief minister was resolved and Panneerselvam had failed to break away enough MLA's to even dampen the chances of Sasikala camp to prove a majority.
It is noteworthy here that the AIADMK had 134 legislators in a 234 member Assembly, out of which a leader needs support of 117 MLAs to form a government. At the time just before Palaniswami's meeting with the governer, 124 MLA's (7 more than the required number) were still backing him to be the new chief minister, according to CNN-News18.
What could be expected in the immediate aftermath
Few things are just plain evident and need no speculation. One, that Sasikala, just like her political mentor, Jayalalithaa, will continue to hold the reins of the state from behind the bars. Two, that it will be a long time before the state gets a chief minister that it really chose, with a proxy CM remaining in charge until next assembly elections. And three, that Panneerselvam has lost hands down, until we count on Palaniswami miraculously loosing the Vote of Confidence.
But beside this, we expect that a lot of leaders who earlier switched over to the Panneerselvam camp will now attempt a reconciliation with the AIADMK as everybody likes to side with the winning horse.
That said, the formal floor test is slated for 15 days from now and that is when the final word will come as to who holds the power. Between then and now, anything can happen, in the ever changing political dynamics of Tamil Nadu.
Updated Date: Feb 16, 2017 18:07 PM