The Madras high court on Friday dismissed a petition by the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam seeking disqualification of 11 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs, including Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, in a huge relief to the Palaniswami government which could have otherwise been reduced to a minority in the state assembly.
A bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose rejected the petition by DMK whip Sakkarapani, citing pendency of a petition in the Supreme Court on the powers of a court to issue directions to the Speaker of a state assembly.
The petitioner had sought disqualification of Panneerselvam and 10 others for having voted against the Edappadi K Palaniswami government last year when they were in the rebel camp.
The petitioner had contended that by voting against the trust motion these MLAs had violated the whip issued by the ruling party and hence attracted disqualification under the anti-defection law.
Panneerselvam and other MLAs, who had then revolted against the AIADMK leadership, voted against the trust vote sought by Chief Minister K Palaniswami on February 18, 2017. Palaniswami eventually won the vote 122-11.
Panneerselvam had opposed the petition saying the whip was issued only to the 122 MLAs who were then camping in a resort and not his erstwhile group.
He was made deputy chief minister after the group and the faction led by Palaniswami merged in August after sidelining jailed leader V K Sasikala and her nephew T T V Dinakaran.
Their disqualification would have brought down the strength of the ruling AIADMK in the 235-member House to 105 from 116, excluding the Speaker and a nominated member.
The opposition DMK with 89 MLAs, has the support of 8 lawmakers of the Congress and one of IUML. There combined strength stands at 98. There is one independent MLA and 18 seats are vacant.
V K Sasikala's nephew Dinakaran, who launched Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam recently and got elected to the assembly from late chief minister J Jayalalithaa's R K Nagar seat, has been claiming that he had 'sleeper cells' among the AIADMK MLAs who could pull down the government.
The ruling party would have faced a tough situation in the event of its strength depleting following the disqualification of its 11 MLAs.
The 18 MLAs loyal to Dinakaran were disqualified by the Speaker after they met the state's then Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao seeking removal of Palaniswami as the chief minister, a day after the factions led by him and Panneerselvam announced a merger.
The disqualified MLAs moved the Madras high court challenging the Speaker's decision. The court reserved its judgment on January 23 and it is yet to be pronounced.
The Election Commission had allotted the 'two leaves' AIADMK symbol to Palaniswami-Panneerselvam led group, rejecting the claim of the faction led by Dinakaran of majority support in the party.
Palaniswami said he was happy about the verdict.
DMK working president M K Stalin said he had faith in the judiciary, but asserted his party's legal battle will continue in the Supreme Court.
DMK's plea for removal of Jaya's portrait from assembly also rejected
The Madras HC also rejected the plea seeking removal of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa's portrait from the state assembly.
The bench of Chief Justice Banerjee and Justice Quddhose dismissed the petition filed by DMK MLA J Anbazhagan seeking removal of the portrait, unveiled on February 10.
He had sought removal of the portrait on grounds that Jayalalithaa was found guilty on corruption charges.
The bench observed that in the absence of any law prohibiting the display of portraits of a person convicted for corruption, 'this court cannot interfere in the matter'.
The decision to unveil the portrait in the House was taken by assembly Speaker P Dhanapal.
The petitioner had submitted that Jayalalithaa was convicted by a special court on graft charges.
Later the same was set aside by the Karnataka high court and on appeal the Supreme Court found all the accused guilty of the charges.
In view of her demise, appeals against Jayalalithaa were treated as abated, the petitioner said.