Sasikala in prison: Is 124 greater than 10? Answer to this will determine Tamil Nadu's future
Sasikala camp Rajya Sabha MP Navneethakrishnan points his finger upwards, saying it is the invisible hand that is at work.
Is 124 greater than 10 or is it the other way round? All of Wednesday night, Governor Vidyasagar Rao sought the answer to this question in the land of Ramanujam. On it hinges how soon Tamil Nadu will get its new government.
Edapadi Palanisamy has conveyed to Rao that he has the support of 124 MLAs, which is seven above the half way mark of 117. O Panneerselvam has not presented any numbers but it is obvious he has only ten legislators on his side. The fact that Raj Bhavan is still engaging with Panneerselvam is proof that a political farce is being played out in Chennai.
Rajya Sabha MP Navneethakrishnan from Sasikala camp points his finger upwards, saying it is the invisible hand that is at work. "We have represented our case and urged the governor to take note,'' he said to me outside Raj Bhavan, late on Wednesday evening. He is apprehensive about how New Delhi is dictating terms to Chennai. After how events have panned out since 5 February, with the Governor first refusing to invite Sasikala and then dragging his feet with Palanisamy, there is huge trust deficit between the Sasikala camp and Raj Bhavan.
Sources say Rao himself is keen to put an end to this stalemate that has lasted ten days now. Personally he is in favour of inviting Palanisamy to form the government and ask him to prove his majority on the floor of the House within 24 to 48 hours. But the pitch has been queered by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi who has suggested a composite floor test to be conducted between Panneerselvam and Palanisamy even though it is only the Supreme court that can order it. The governor reportedly is not convinced that the situation in Chennai warrants a composite floor test.
Sources indicate that Raj Bhavan's invite could go out to Palanisamy by Thursday noon and the swearing-in ceremony could even take place the same day.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has already spoken of how two central ministers are showing undue interest in affairs of Tamil Nadu. It is almost as if Panneerselvam who is slow in running between the wickets, has asked for a runner to sprint for him.
The thinning crowds at Panneerselvam's residence on Greenways Road indicate that Team Panneerselvam has realised it does not have the momentum and is claiming that if the MLAs who are holed up at the resort are set free, they will not back Palanisamy but Panneerselvam. But the claim is not borne out by facts on the ground. Because at the resort, the loyalty factor to Sasikala is enormous.
That is because each of the 124 MLAs supporting Palanisamy is a creation of the Jayalalithaa-Sasikala combine. They are aware that they got elected because of Sasikala's recommendation for a ticket and finances and Jayalalithaa's campaign for them. They know public sentiment is against Sasikala at the moment but it is also about self-interest and obligation. None of them want a snap poll in 2017 and would side with the winning horse, that at least on the basis of numbers, is Palanisamy at the moment.
Senior police officers say that under no section of the Indian Penal Code, they can forcibly ask the lawmakers to move out of the private resort. They say that the MLAs are there with their family members and support staff and cannot be evicted just because the Panneerselvam camp alleges they are kept there under duress.
"Several IPS officers are inside the resort now. If any of the MLAs wants to get out, all he or she has to do is to tell one of the officers and he will be taken out. There are some 700 cops stationed outside the resort as well. If police does anything on its own, it will be an overreach,'' says a senior police officer.
Also when the cops asked the 119 MLAs present at the resort if they were compelled to stay there, none of them said yes. The same report was presented to the Madras High court. There is also the ethical dilemma about whether Panneerselvam in his capacity as caretaker chief minister, can use the police force against a political rival to gain politically.
On Wednesday, a complaint was filed by Saravanan, MLA from Madurai who claimed to have escaped the resort in disguise. He accused Palanisamy and Sasikala of having kidnapped him. Police officials say Saravanan at best can speak for himself, not for all the legislators. They cite the case of the nephew of an MLA from Tiruvallur district who had complained that his uncle was missing. But the legislator's wife told the police that she knew where the MLA was and that he was safe.
In the midst of all this, an attempt was also made to queer the pitch for both chief minister aspirants. Sources say those opposed to the idea of Palanisamy as CM have been floating the name of a non-OPS, non-EPS candidate. The name of an AIADMK MP as the new leader is being spoken of. This is to ensure that Tamil Nadu stays under the thumb of elements from outside. For the last 24 hours, back channel talks are on to achieve a breakthrough, now that Sasikala — the main target of rancour — is out of the picture.
Palanisamy is not likely to be given too much time to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The floor test could take place as early as Monday. The concern is about Panneerselvam's personal safety. Such is the anger in the Sasikala camp against OPS, who they call a "betrayer" that he could be physically harmed in the House. The political potboiler from the land of Kollywood has not yet run out of twists and turns.
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