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Tamil Nadu: Panneerselvam likely to seek a floor test when he meets governor

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Insiders in the Panneerselvam faction said the idea was to prove Sasikala did not have majority support in the Assembly rather than winning the test.

Sruthisagar Yamunan

Political temperature in Tamil Nadu is set to hit the roof on Thursday when acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao reaches Chennai in the afternoon.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s general secretary VK Sasikala is expected to meet the governor and formally stake claim to form the next government.

On Wednesday, the AIADMK claimed 131 of the 135 party legislators backed her and have extended their support to her. After a meeting at the party headquarters, they were taken in three buses to a resort near Mahabalipuram, 45 km from Chennai. The arrangement to keep the MLAs together was to ensure there was no horse trading.

But things may not go so smoothly for Sasikala. Insiders in the Panneerselvam camp told Scroll.in that the caretaker chief minister, who resigned on Sunday, will also meet the governor. He is expected to tell Rao that he resigned under duress and is likely to demand an opportunity to prove his support in the Assembly.

Sasikala was first elected leader of the AIADMK’s legislative party on Sunday. But since the governor was not available in Chennai, the swearing-in could not happen on Monday.

Things took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when Panneerselvam revolted. Since then, he has tried to build pressure on Sasikala through several steps. On Wednesday, he wrote to banks asking them not to operate the AIADMK’s accounts without his concurrence. His argument was that Sasikala was not elected as party general secretary properly and that her orders removing him from the post of AIADMK treasurer, something he has held since 2007, was invalid. This was primarily done to partially cut access to money ahead of a possible floor test in the Assembly. The AIADMK has over Rs 100 crore in funds.

On Thursday morning, he issued orders to convert former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence, where Sasikala is currently living, into a memorial.

Panneerselvam’s strategy

An AIADMK official close to Panneerselvam said the acting chief minister clearly does not have the support of the majority MLAs. But on Thursday, a few of the MLAs did reach out to Panneerselvam.

“The MLAs are unclear. Most want to wait till the Supreme Court delivers its verdict in the illegal wealth case,” the official said. The court is set to pass the judgment in Sasikala’s disproportionate assets case next week.

Panneerselvam’s team feels it was not necessary to get a majority to stop Sasikala from becoming chief minister. Rather, the idea seems to be to show Sasikala does not have majority support in the Assembly. This could happen if 19 of the 135 MLAs switch over to Panneerselvam’s side. The Tamil Nadu Assembly currently has 233 legislators, with the support of 117 necessary to sustain a government.

Once this happens, the governor might be compelled to intervene as none of the parties would have a majority to form government. The MLAs who violate party whip and back Panneerselvam will be disqualified under anti-defection laws.

“If there is an election now, Sasikala will be routed,” the official added.

By withdrawing his resignation and forcing a floor test, Panneerselvam also hopes to buy time till the Supreme Court delivers its verdict next week. If convicted, Sasikala will automatically disqualified from holding public office. “If that happens, MLAs will immediately flock to us,” the official claimed.

Though Sasikala’s side has claimed that 131 MLAs attended the meeting at the party headquarters in Chennai on Wednesday, it is still anybody’s guess what the actual numbers are.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.

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