Seeking to crack down on the 19 dissident All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs loyal to sidlined deputy chief T T V Dinkaran, the chief government whip on Thursday sought their disqualification for alleged anti-party activities, a move dubbed as 'intimidation' by the rebels.
In a swift response, Speaker P Dhanapal issued notice to the MLAs who have been staying at a resort in Puducherry since they met state Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao on Tuesday and expressed lack of confidence in Chief Minister K Palaniswami.
The speaker sought their replies within seven days. The rebels, however, dismissed the move to disqualify them as 'a planned drama' and said they would legally challenge it.
"The disqualification game is a planned drama and there is actually nobody to patronise or welcome it. We will move court against Chief Whip for contempt," MLA Thangatamilselvan said.
The whip's approach was 'ill conceived and a blind thought and we will not be cowed by any such threats,' he told reporters in the presence of several other legislators camping at the resort on Puducherry outskirts.
He contended that Rajendran had violated procedures laid down by Supreme Court in such matters.
Thangatamilselvan also said he had not received the speaker's notice so far.
Meanwhile, Puducherry Senior Superintendent of Police Rajiv Ranjan and Tahsildar Dayalan visited the resort, where 18 MLAs are camping, to ascertain the prevailing situation.
Another pro-Dianakaran legislator P Vetrivel said: "We have nowhere said we will vote against this government." The group only wanted a change in the chief minister, he told reporters in Chennai.
The MLAs had met the Governor a day after the merger of two AIADMK factions led by Palaniswami and former chief minister O Panneerselvam, posing a threat to stability of the government.
Amid opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and others demanding a trust vote citing the dissension in the AIADMK ranks, Government Chief Whip S Rajendran today submitted a memorandum to the Assembly Speaker seeking disqualification of the 19 MLAs.
Rajendran, citing reports, said the pro-Dinakaran MLAs had told the Governor on Tuesday that they were 'withdrawing' support to the Palaniswami government.
Reading out a from a statement at a hurriedly convened press meet in Chennai, he said that on February 14, an unanimous decision had been taken to elect Palaniswami as AIADMK Legislature Party Leader and there was no change in it.
"Further, they (the rebel MLAs) have also addressed the media. This is anti-party (activity). Since such an act implies voluntary relinquishing of membership, they are liable to be disqualified under Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (related to anti-defection)," the chief whip said.
Citing this as well as a Tamil Nadu anti-defection law of 1986, he sought the disqualification of the 19 MLAs.
Their meeting with the governor was also 'unilateral' as they had not kept him informed, Rajendran said.
Acting on the memorandum, Speaker Dhanapal later issued notices to the MLAs seeking their reply within seven days, official sources said.
Vetrivel alleged the action of the Whip was an attempt to 'intimidate 15-20 (additional) MLAs' who he claimed wanted to switch over to their camp.
He said the apex court had in 2011 quashed then Karnataka Speaker disqualifying 16 rebel MLAs, including 11 of the Bharatiya Janata Party, ahead of then Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa facing trust vote.
He also questioned why there was no action against Panneerselvam and his supporters for voting against the government in the February 18 trust vote faced by Palaniswami.
Earlier in the day, Vetrivel claimed many MLAs and even some ministers were in touch with Dhinakaran camp, but did not reveal their identities.
He also said Dinakaran had no intention of becoming the Chief Minister of the state and reiterated the demand for the resignation of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam.
The candidature of any other person, including Speaker Dhanapal, for the CM's post was agreeable to them, he said, an opinion also echoed by Thangatamilselvan.
Sasikala's Mannargudi-based brother V Divakaran has already backed Dhanapal to become the chief minister.
Training his guns on Panneerselvam, Vetrivel said he had levelled corruption charges against the government and took the fight for AIADMK's two leaves symbol to the Election Commission and wondered why he was now part of the cabinet.
Vetrivel sought an 'explanation' from Palaniswami for the merger of his Amma faction with that of Panneerselvam.
Earlier in the day, Dinakaran supporters burnt posters of Rajya Sabha MP R Vaithilingam, recently 'expelled' by Dinakaran from the party, besides that of Puducherry unit of unified AIADMK leader Om Sakthi Segar.
Segar had on Wednesday led a protest against the MLAs outside the resort.
Meanwhile, police was deployed in strength outside the resort, where the MLAs are staying in the coastal village of Chinna Veerampattinam on the outskirts of Puducherry.
Thangatamilselvamn said 'a wrong image about us is being projected in a section of the media. The fact is that we are all here to project the correct picture and that we all remain united'.
Meanwhile, Perundurai AIADMK MLA and former Minister Thopu D Venkatachalam, originally a supporter of Dhinakaran, said he now 'continues to be in the AIADMK'.
Speaking to reporters, he urged Palaniswami to hold consultations with all stakeholders to end the impasse.
IMAGE: T T V Dinakaran.