E Palaniswami wins trust vote in Tamil Nadu Assembly, but democracy takes a beating

Democracy formally retired hurt in the land of Kolaveri on Saturday. The entire Opposition of the DMK, Congress and the IUML were evicted to allow Edappadi K Palaniswami to seek a trust vote, which he won 122-11. In the process, farce earned a synonym.

The Kollywoodish drama started early at 11 am with both MK Stalin and O Panneerselvam demanding secret ballot voting. But once Speaker Dhanapal rejected the demand, the decibel levels inside the Tamil Nadu Assembly rose, with DMK MLAs climbing on to their chairs, tearing up documents. Visuals were leaked selectively by the AIADMK-backed Jaya TV to highlight DMK's belligerent behaviour, it established that Dhanapal was manhandled, his shirt torn, his microphone broken and his table overturned. Stalin, however, claimed the Speaker tore his shirt himself and accused the DMK of misdemeanour to build a case against them.

Not that the past two weeks have not dented the Tamil Nadu political ecosystem. The manner in which one person in the quest for becoming chief minister confined all her MLAs to a resort outside Chennai, was a vulgar low. While a majority of the legislators were indeed followers of VK Sasikala, having earned their entry into politics with her blessings, there were some who were allegedly arm-twisted to stay on. Some of them managed to escape to tell the tale of coercion inside the Golden Bay resort. One of them, Madurai MLA Saravanan, fled clad in bermuda shorts.

DMK leader MK Stalin arrives along with his party MLAs at State Secretariat on Saturday. PTI

DMK leader MK Stalin arrives along with his party MLAs at State Secretariat on Saturday. PTI

Then there was the sight of Stalin, the leader of the Opposition, walking out of the Assembly with his shirt buttons open, claiming it was torn by political rivals. It was the DMK leader's political 56-inch chest moment, signifying his party was ready for the political battle.

Daag acchhe hain? No, certainly not. All that has happened in the last two weeks in Tamil Nadu have been a blot on democracy in the battle of the veshtis. Contrary to Panneerselvam's desperate hope that at least half a dozen MLAs will vote according to their conscience to make the Palaniswami government lose the trust vote, the 122 lawmakers decided that power in hand is better than a re-election victory in the bush. Winning the trust vote means no immediate election and gives the resort sun-tanned legislators hope that they will have time to woo their voters once again.

That will be an audacious hope given that people in Tamil Nadu are saliva-ready to spit on the MLAs, the moment they set sight on them. The anti-Sasikala sentiment runs so deep that the Palaniswami regime that will look to Bengaluru for instructions from convict number 9234, will start its innings without any honeymoon period.

And if people needed a spark to light up their anger, that came from actor Kamal Haasan who tweeted taunting India's "de-mockcrazy'' soon after the trust vote saying : "People of Tamizhnadu, Welcome your respective MLAs with the respect they deserve back home.''

Not that the Sasikala camp spared any effort to downplay its enthusiasm to get into positions of power. Sources reveal that the name of Sasikala's nephew, TTV Dinakaran figured in the initial list of ministers to be sworn-in. But Governor Vidyasagar Rao put his foot down in light of the economic offences cases against Dinakaran. Rao told Palaniswami that he will have to seek legal opinion on Dinakaran and if Palaniswami insisted on him, he will have to put off the swearing-in ceremony to another day. A desperate Palaniswami fell in line, agreeing to strike out Dinakaran's name. If not for Rao, Tamil Nadu would have seen an economic offender who coughed up a fine of Rs 25 crore in a money laundering related FERA case last month, sworn-in most likely as the finance minister.

Palaniswami may have won the battle of Fort St George, where the Assembly is located but the war of Madras is far from over. 'Thalapathi' Stalin, with his torn shirt as his first weapon, wanted to sit on a hunger strike at the Marina. The DMK calculated that even if it indulged in what would be deemed to be unparliamentary behaviour, the public mood is so anti-Sasikala that it would forgive Saturday's misdemeanour. Stalin would hope to build on this to start a public movement against the Palaniswami's freshly minted government.

However, Palaniswami who is clearly a man of numbers, after having bagged 122, has imposed Section 144 at the Marina which empowers the Chennai police to evict Stalin and company from the Gandhi statue area.

Giving Stalin's competition to grab the anti-Sasikala space, will be Panneerselvam. His dramatic revolt got him no more than 11 legislators but made him into a hero in the public eye. He will now have to show the spine to cultivate the AIADMK cadre to tap into the gulf between the Sasikala-led AIADMK leadership and its cadre.

Across the Cauvery, Sasikala will be pleased. Both the party and the government are in her grip. Little does she realise that in all probability, she has lost Tamil Nadu.

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2017 18:51:26 IST

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