POLITICS

Outnumbered By Sasikala Loyalists, OPS Needs A Miracle To Win Today's Trust Vote In Tamil Nadu Assembly

Sasikala faction has 122 MLAs.

18/02/2017 8:37 AM IST | Updated 18/02/2017 9:20 AM IST
ARUN SANKAR via Getty Images
Acting chief minister O Panneerselvam (C) of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu gestures during a press conference at his home in Chennai on February 14, 2017.

It's only a matter of hours before one gets to know if VK Sasikala's proxy government that has just been sworn in Tamil Nadu is going to survive or collapse. The numbers are completely in favour of the Edappady Palanisamy government and nothing less than a miracle can change the minds of a few MLAs and allow rival O Pannerselvam serve his revenge in cold.

It's remarkable indeed that despite public opinion overwhelmingly going against Sasikala and even the most seasoned observers predicting that most of the MLAs would desert her camp if the Supreme Court convicted her, her flock is still together. Had it been pure politics, she couldn't have achieved this because both her future as well as her present, in terms of public response, are severely compromised. Why did the legislators still stay with her?

It's remarkable indeed that despite public opinion overwhelmingly going against Sasikala and even the most seasoned observers predicting that most of the MLAs would desert her camp if the Supreme Court convicted her, her flock is still together.

Is it because of their confinement in a distant resort followed by indoctrination, bonding and even emotional blackmailing, fear, or something else? Politicians are generally smart and are quick to grasp the pulse of the people, but in this case, they have clearly chosen to ignore it for the present. Or probably, they are not completely aware of the public pushback is are in store for them because they have been insulated.

On Thursday night, there were rumours that some MLAs supporting Palanisamy were unhappy and might cross vote, but informed sources say the differences have been "settled" and there will be no erosion. As of now, O Panneerselvam (OPS) has 10 MLAs with him and the Sasikala faction, 122. One has decided to abstain, and another to vote against, although both are not part of the OPS camp.

All that the latter need is only 117 or half the numbers that will be present in the assembly before it shuts its doors. Strangely, the Congress, with eight MLAs, has decided to keep their options open till the last minute although they contested the elections in alliance with the DMK, which has issued a whip to their MLAs to vote against Palanisamy.

That OPS has failed to attract more MLAs other than those who switched loyalty initially is really strange.

That OPS has failed to attract more MLAs other than those who switched loyalty initially is really strange. Even senior editors from Tamil Nadu such as N Ram have openly said that he expected more MLAs to shift sides. It didn't happen and probably one of the reasons is their inaccessibility. OPS couldn't reach them at all, let alone communicate even indirectly with them, to make his case. Regardless of the denial by Sasikala's men, it is certain that they have been confined to a controlled, thought-policed environment. Without access to even mass media such as TV and internet as well as mobile phones, the messages from people and OPS wouldn't have reached them. Without a pitch, how can he expect them to defect? Those who had clear political reasons had already defected.

Now OPS will get one last chance in the assembly when the confidence motion is put to vote. After Palanisamy asks for support of the legislators, other leaders get to speak and OPS too will get a chance unless the speaker takes sides. That will be his only chance to appeal to the MLAs to back him. He should make it dramatic and should aim not just the MLAs in the house, but also the people outside. Does he have it in him to deliver a Mark Antony spectacle that can make at least some of the MLAs to introspect and turn against Sasikala and her coterie?

After Palanisamy asks for support of the legislators, other leaders get to speak and OPS too will get a chance unless the speaker takes sides.

The chances are low because the reasons for them backing her may not be political at all, but personal and it may be difficult to break them this late. Still, it's worth a try and nothing is over till it's over. Who knows if a few would use a second chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of the people.

Even if the government succeeds, it will be unstable because the non-political terms that have been settled for the time being by the floor managers could come up again. Even if the MLAs are satiated every time they raise new demands, it would be a bumpy road. More over, its majority will be very thin and it will have to live with a formidable opposition unlike in the earlier AIADMK regimes when the numbers were hugely in their favour.

If the government falls, the Governor can either go in for the President's rule or swear in DMK's MK Stalin if he stakes a claim. But this scenario is unlikely because Stalin too will like fresh elections because of the palpable public anger against Sasikala and the party that stood with her. OPS too will be happy to face the elections with his backers, namely the BJP.

In the event of early polls, the ruling faction will be at a tremendous disadvantage.

In the event of early polls, the ruling faction will be at a tremendous disadvantage. It might be a repeat of 1996 because that was the last time when Tamil Nadu witnessed so much anger against an incumbent political party and the people in its leadership. The AIADMK was routed with just four seats while the DMK mopped up 173 and its ally, Tamil Maanila Congress (the anti-Jaya faction of the Congress), 39.

Another interesting outcome to wait for is if all the MLAs who have pledged loyalty to OPS would indeed end up voting against the vote of confidence motion because in such case, they would all be disqualified for defying party whip. The AIADMK has issued a whip to all its members to vote for the motion, failing which they would be disqualified under the Anti Defection Law. OPS and Mafoi Pandiarajan have been expelled from the AIADMK and hence they are free from the party whip, but not the others. The others are still members of the AIADMK and liable to be disqualified. Are they prepared for the forfeiture of their perks-rich assembly seats? One MLA, a former police officer, has said that he would indeed vote against the government because that's what the people want and that he doesn't care for losing his seat. He is not one of the OPS loyalists.

The AIADMK has issued a whip to all its members to vote for the motion, failing which they would be disqualified under the Anti Defection Law.

The disqualification of MLAs, if it happens, is a process that will follow the trust vote. It may be revoked if the Election Commission (EC) decides in favour of the OPS faction in their pending petition against Sasikala's elevation as the General Secretary of the AIADMK. The former AIADMK Presidium Chairman E Madhusoodanan, who's now with OPS, has issued reciprocal expulsion orders against Sasikala and Palaniswamy because according to him he still has the authority. His argument may have some merit in the disqualification issue because it's only the EC that will decide whose word is final and whose faction is official because it will be based on the party constitution. The jury is still out on those inner party issues and it's the EC's domain.

The possible scenarios following the confidence vote:

1- Government wins the trust vote and continues in power

2- All the AIADMK MLAs except the OPS faction vote for the motion; the OPS faction except OPS and Mafoi Pandiarajan get disqualified under the Anti Defection Law. (OPS and Pandiarajan don't get disqualified because they are already expelled from the AIADMK)

3- All the MLAs except OPS and Mafoi Pandiarajan vote for the motion, none get disqualified.

4- Some MLAs from the OPS faction cross-vote for the motion and escape from disqualification. Others get disqualified.

5- Government loses the vote and collapses. Speaker disqualifies the AIADMK MLAs, except OPS and Pandiarajan, who voted against the motion.

6- Governor waits to see if MK Stalin stakes a claim and swears him in later with a condition that he proves his majority in the assembly soon. If he too fails to win the vote of confidence, the Governor recommends President's rule

7- Doesn't wait for anybody - or Stalin doesn't stake a claim - and recommends President's rule immediately

8- Fresh elections in about a year

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