Rediff.com  » News » OPS revolt puts ball firmly in governor's court

OPS revolt puts ball firmly in governor's court

By N Sathiya Moorthy
February 08, 2017 10:26 IST

Could Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao have contributed to a betterment of the situation by being in Chennai after the AIADMK legislators voted to replace their CM, and not flown to Delhi from Coimbatore on Sunday afternoon?

Is a faxed resignation of a CM was valid under law, as the Constitution clearly states that any such resignation of a minister, including chief minister, has to be 'under his own hand'?

What if the AIADMK legislators resolve to reiterate Sasikala's election as CM? Can the governor still delay returning to Chennai?

And what would be the role and game of the Opposition DMK-Congress combine with a total of 98 out of 234 MLAs in the state?

OPS' revolt raises more questions than there are answers, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam at J Jayalalithaa's burial site at Marina Beach in Chennai. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

Independent of the political consequences for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu, Tuesday's late evening revolt by Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, or OPS, against the leadership of CM-elect V K Sasikala has raised more questions than provide any answers.

Among them are the questions involving the governor's role under the Constitution, with particular reference to acting governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao.

There can be no question about the prevailing cadre disenchantment over Sasikala first becoming party general secretary, and quickly following it up with what OPS now indicates was 'usurping' the Constitutional office of chief minister.

As a political aspirant and backroom operator through much of the late Jayalalithaa Jayaram's term as party chief and CM, Sasikala may have been entitled to believe so, but it is a different cup of tea that the cadres, as different from the much-obliged second-line of MLAs, MPs and district secretaries, would want it that way.

Increasing cadre disenchantment, which was becoming even more visible with each passing day, and the perceptible unwillingness of a substantial section of opinion makers and youth across the state, to accept Sasikala as CM seem to have finally made up OPS' mind to 'revolt' when he did -- after an unscheduled and near unexpected 'meditation' at Jaya's samadhi on the Marina sands in Chennai.

If he swore by Jaya's 'atma', it could not have been otherwise -- for he was addressing the cadres as much as the Sasikala leadership that was tied down and which was tying down the second line to its apron strings.

AIADMK politics, and that of the state, will not be the same again, unlike what it was perceived to be when Jaya's niece Deepa began protesting against Sasikala.

Deepa is not a member of the party nor was she associated with the cadres or voters until after Jaya's death, and a purported vacuum arose for her to try and step in.

Panneerselvam is a leader with a lot of political background and experience -- three-time CM, including the current one, in 16 years, and a party cadre since 1977, five years after the late M G Ramachandran founded the AIADMK.

As Jayalalithaa's Man Friday in the political and electoral arena through the past years, OPS has also remained accessible to cadres at all levels, and understands the political and electoral dynamics of individual districts and regions as much as anyone else in the party.

Yet, Panneer is just now friendless in the party's second-line, but the situation could change as and when Governor Rao arrives in the state capital, and sets the Constitutional ball rolling.

It is anybody's guess why the governor took his time coming to Chennai after the AIADMK legislature party elected Sasikala to replace OPS as chief minister, in what the latter now has acknowledged was a hurried meeting, called without his knowledge.

Panneerselvam has the right to complain.

As chief minister, he was also leader of the House, and as such was entitled to be informed of and associated with the legislature party meeting.

For better and worse, on the implementation of the anti-defection law, courts across the country, from the Supreme Court downwards, have repeatedly distinguished between the organisational wing and the legislative wing.

That's as far as technicalities go.

But in reality, at least as of now, most ministers and MLAs, if not all, seem to be siding with 'Chinnamma', or Sasikala.

In his late night news conference on Tuesday, OPS did say that he would soldier along all by himself, if it came to that, and he was responsive only to Amma's 'atma' or soul, and cadres could still hop onto his side, in legal terms, it does not change the situation on the ground.

Now that Panneerselvam has also said that he would consider withdrawing his resignation if the people desired it, the question would arise if Governor Rao could accept such a change of mind.

At least the Constitution does not provide for it, that too after Rao 'hastily' accepted the faxed resignation, if only to avoid speculation on that count.

The question arises if Rao could have contributed to a betterment of the situation by being in Chennai after the AIADMK legislators voted to replace their CM, and not flown to Delhi from Coimbatore, where he was at the time of the Chennai meeting, on Sunday afternoon.

There is also the question if a faxed resignation of a CM was valid under law, as the Constitution clearly states that any such resignation of a minister, including chief minister, has to be 'under his own hand.

OPS did not at all address the issue if the state cabinet formally met to resolve on his resignation, as is customary even after the party in power loses power in elections.

In continuation, the question would also arise if the governor could authorise any withdrawal of such a resignation as ab initio void, without a cabinet authorisation for the CM to do so.

What if the AIADMK legislators resolve to reiterate Sasikala's election as CM?

Can the governor still delay returning to Chennai, if only to address the undeniable Constitutional crisis that the earlier delay might have pushed the state into, in which Sasikala's election, and possible reiteration, form a part and climax of sorts?

It's not untrue that Sasikala is faced with the Supreme Court verdict in the Jaya wealth case, wherein a mere 'conviction' would deny her the Constitutional office under earlier the Supreme Court verdict (the Jayalalithaa case, 2001) and observations (Manoj Nurula, 2014).

It would have served a Constitutional purpose if the governor was present on hand in Chennai, to elucidate legal opinion on the one hand and educate the AIADMK legislature party on the other.

As coincidence would have it, the Supreme Court bench hearing the wealth case clarified only a day after Sasikala's election as CM candidate that it would pronounce the verdict within a week.

The possibilities before the bench are immense.

It can either acquit Jaya and Sasikala, or convict them, or even revert the case back to the Karnataka high court for hearing it afresh.

A fourth possibility is for the two judges on the bench to pronounce a 'split verdict'.

What would be the governor's position if the latter were to be the case, even if he were to wait until such time that the Supreme Court pronounces a verdict?

Definitely, Rao would go back to the Centre for legal advice, but would the latter be required to seek the Supreme Court's imminent view in the matter of deciding on Sasikala's legitimacy vide earlier court verdicts?

Would the currently prevailing situation, viz the AIADMK legislature party, or OPS' claims of forced resignation and possible withdrawal, or a split verdict by the Supreme Court in the wealth case mean that the state assembly might have to be kept under 'suspended animation' until the legal and Constitutional issues get cleared and clarified?

It does not stop there, however.

Should the governor permit OPS to withdraw his resignation, but with a rider that he proves his majority on the floor of the House within 10 or 15 days, the decision itself could be challenged in the courts.

Legal issues on why the governor accepted a faxed resignation without seeking personal confirmation from OPS, and why he stayed away from the state capital at a crucial hour, and was instead attending a social function in Delhi, would all be issues that could be agitated, too.

Likewise, it would be incumbent upon Panneerselvam to prove that he was pressured into submitting his resignation, and that despite being chief minister of one of the enlightened and urbanised states in the country, he could not agitate his own case before the governor or other Constitutional authorities but could do so only in public -- that too after the passage of a whole week and more.

Yet, in the prevailing nebulous situation, even if the governor were to accept the AIADMK legislature party's decision and possible reiteration of the election of Sasikala as CM, he might decide to ask her to prove her majority on the floor of the House within a fortnight or so.

But then, that's the kind of time, or even less, that the Supreme Court has fixed for itself to pronounce the wealth case verdict.

What if at the time the Supreme Court verdict implies that Sasikala cannot continue as CM, and there was no case for her to face the assembly?

Leave aside the fact that she would become the second CM of the state after MGR's widow Janaki Ramachandran to quit without facing a trust vote, she would also become the second CM of Tamil Nadu, after mentor-master Jayalalithaa, to be sent to prison in a corruption case, and on court orders.

The Constitutional question, and the political nebulousness of the present day, would have returned, too.

Should the governor ask the AIADMK legislature party to elect a new CM, or consider other options?

Politically, the question would arise if the AIADMK legislators, in such a scenario, would go back to OPS, or look at other options.

Would all of them be together in it, or split, vertically or horizontally, or both?

And what would be the role and game of the Opposition DMK-Congress combine with a total of 98 out of 234 MLAs in the state?

For now, the DMK's Leader of the Opposition, M K Stalin, has been guarded in his early reaction to OPS' Marina 'disclosure'.

But then, OPS also later told newsmen that he had revealed only 10 per cent of 'what all had happened' -- but denied that either the Centre was behind him, as alleged by rival faction leaders, or that it was wrong to be friendly toward the political Opposition in the assembly.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy
SHARE THIS STORY