DMK leader MK Stalin is concerned that a no-trust move would force the EPS faction to patch up with not only the OPS group but also the TTV camp and also get the ‘Two Leaves’ poll symbol unfrozen, which could upset his party's electoral apple cart, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Even as two of the three factions within the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu continue to make on-again-off-again tentative moves at re-unification, the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is confused over moving a no-trust motion against the government of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. Despite public postures to the contrary, DMK working president and Leader of the Opposition, M K Stalin, is unsure if a no-trust initiative would rather unite all three factions of the AIADMK, instead of two at present.
The current moves by the majority EPS faction began (only) after the internal group under T T V Dinakaran produced 20 MLAs and seven MPs at a public rally which the latter addressed at Melur, Madurai, on Monday, August 14. In doing so, Dinakaran claimed that he had kept silent for two months, for other factions to initiate the re-unification moves, but to no avail.
However, the Madurai rally has since forced the EPS faction to try and patch up with the original rivals headed by three-time Chief Minister O Panneerselvam. The state cabinet’s sudden decision to convert late party supremo and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in the city into a memorial, and also to order a judicial probe into her death, headed by a retired high court judge, are a step in this direction, it would seem.
Yet these are incomplete steps in every which way. Some OPS faction leaders, possibly defying the mainline thinking, went to the media, pointing out how they had demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into Jaya’s death and the EPS leadership has now announced one headed only by a retired HC judge. Later, however, former minister ‘Mafoi’ K Pandiarajan, spokesman for the OPS faction, extended a qualified welcome of sorts to the chief minister’s announcement.
Incidentally, the probe decision came not when the OPS faction had set it as a major condition for unification with the EPS group, but only after Dinakaran demanded one, saying that Panneerselvam should be the first one to be called by any probe panel for the purpose. Not all OPS faction leaders are thus sure that the EPS-TTV factions are playing a game of their own, to ‘fix’ their leader.
Meanwhile, Jayalalithaa’s controversial nephew Deepak and his sister and the more vocal, Deepa, lost no time in protesting the government’s announcement on converting Jaya’s home into an official memorial.
Independent of each other, they have pointed out that the property belonged to the family (implying how Jayalalithaa had built the house on the land jointly purchased with her mother, late actor, Sandhya, and as paternal grandchildren, Deepak and Deepa had a stake).
It is all an ‘internal affair’ of the AIADMK, as the DMK leaders declare in public, but they are also under pressure, not only from their cadres but also a vocal section of the public, who are expressing their frustrations at the ‘non-functioning’ government and a feuding ruling party. The comparison to ‘King Nero fiddling when Rome was burning’ is palpable through many social media campaigns in Tamil Nadu the past many months.
As the DMK has pointed out, there is no truth in the EPS camp’s argument that they could move a no-trust move against the government only after August 20, when six months would have elapsed after the chief minister won a trust vote. While legislative procedures across the country mandate that no two no-trust move should be moved without the lapse of a six-month period (implying, not in the same session of the House), what EPS sought and obtained was only a ‘trust vote’, and what the DMK can move now or any time earlier was a separate, no-trust motion.
The DMK is ready to face fresh elections to the state assembly, but does not want to be seen as forcing one on the state, which even its own incumbent and losing candidates from the 2016 elections cannot afford to spend on. But cadres want ‘action’ from Stalin, who is under pressure to prove himself as equal to Karunanidhi.
Despite having changed the public image of the party positively over the past 15 years and more, Stalin has yet to prove to the cadres that he (too) can win elections for the party, and lead a government on his own steam.
But Stalin’s problem not so is simple. His camp is concerned that a no-trust move by the DMK should not force the EPS faction to patch up with not only the OPS group but also the TTV camp, and end up making the AIADMK as strong as Jayalalithaa had left it. It could also mean that the party could go together and get the ‘Two Leaves’ poll symbol unfrozen by the Election Commission. This can upset the DMK’s electoral apple cart, if only between now and the next round of elections -- to the Lok Sabha in 2019 and state assembly, two years later.
Though they may not be able to wipe out all the charges of corruption and lawlessness against them, jointly and severally, an approachable chief minister and an accessible government can make a difference, as Chief Minister OPS proved at the height of the ‘Vardha’ cyclone devastation in Chennai in December last. It was also this that made him a suspect and enemy in the eyes of the dominant ‘Sasikala faction’, led by the jailed live-in confidante of Jayalalithaa, and his resignation as chief minister.
For now, senior minister ‘Dindigul’ S Srinivasan is since on record that after TTV’s show of strength at Madurai, the government has the support of 115 MLAs, including in it the OPS faction’s 11. The fact remains that with the TTV faction opposing the government, the chances are that the government may be defeated unless they stay away at voting time. That is a big ‘if’ that the EPS and OPS factions just cannot afford.
The DMK has 98 members, including eight of the Congress ally, in the 234-seat state assembly. The Stalin leadership does not seem to have any problem with forming the first coalition government in the state, if it came to that, unlike his bed-ridden father, M Karunanidhi, who ran the only ‘minority’ government (2006-11) in the state with ‘outside support’ from the Congress and up to a point, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, as well.
Stalin does not fancy himself in such situations, nor does his camp seem to fancy the possibility of his repeating Karunanidhi’s feat of running a ‘minority government’ with only 96 MLAs , through five full years.
The question thus boils down to this. What if the TTV faction moves a no-confidence motion, for which they still require at least four more MLAs (after retaining the existing 20), under the rules? The TTV faction would be keen on obtaining that number, which would also strengthen their own bargaining power vis-a-vis the other two factions, even if combined.
In such a scenario, the DMK-Congress Opposition combine should have no hesitation in voting in favour of the no-trust move, and see that the government is defeated, taking the state closer to fresh round of assembly polls. At least at present, there does not seem to be any chance of the DMK-Congress combine forming an alternate government, if it came to that, or supporting the TTV faction or any other, from the outside.
Such a course, according to DMK insiders, would be ‘suicidal’ and could only spoil their image when it is at a high just now. For the same reasons, they say, they cannot be seen as forming a government with support from the TTV faction, or any other from within the AIADMK, now or later.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.