Delivering his punch in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government vs Governor tussle in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister M K Stalin on Friday conveyed to Governor R N Ravi that his action of 'dismissal' of Minister V Senthil Balaji from the Cabinet was unconstitutional and hence not valid.
Stalin also slammed the Governor for alluding to 'breakdown of Constitutional machinery'.
While the Raj Bhavan had on Thursday night said it placed the unprecedented 'dismissal' order on hold, the DMK regime asserted it would pick an appropriate action plan to counter and fight the move against the minister by Ravi, even though he backtracked from it.
In his letter to Ravi, Stalin said: 'I reiterate that you have no power to dismiss my ministers. That is the sole prerogative of an elected chief minister. Your unconstitutional communication dismissing my minister without my advice is void ab initio (not valid right from the beginning of the process to dismiss Senthil Balaji) and non est (not known to law /not in sync with law) in law and hence has been disregarded.'
Referring to the two letters of June 29 from Raj Bhavan to the government, first on dismissal and then on keeping the order in abeyance, Stalin said that the aid or advice of the CM and the Cabinet was not sought before either letter was sent.
'The fact that within a few hours after you issued such a strongly worded first letter, even alluding to 'breakdown of constitutional machinery, a not so veiled threat', you withdrew it to seek the opinion of the Attorney General,' Stalin said.
'This showed that the Governor had not even taken legal opinion before taking such an important decision.'
He added, 'The fact that it needed the (Union) Home Minister's intervention to direct you to take legal opinion on this matter itself shows that you have acted in haste with scant regard to the Constitution of India.'
Citing Supreme Court rulings and the legal position on the matter, the CM said the matter of disqualification is applicable only in the event of a conviction by court. 'Senthil Balaji has only been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for investigations, and the charge sheet in the case has not been filed till now.'
Stalin hit out at the Governor for showing 'bias' and practising 'double standards', and criticised him for the 'inexplicable silence on my government's request for sanctions to investigate, prosecute former ministers and public servants for offences committed during the previous AIADMK government.'
He further said, 'Even the request of CBI for sanction of prosecution in the gutka case has not been acted upon by you.'
Stalin pointed out, 'Under Article 164(1), the Governor appoints and removes ministers only on the advice of the chief minister. The Governor has no power to decide who should or should not be part of the Cabinet.'
On Thursday, the Raj Bhavan release had said, 'There are reasonable apprehensions that continuation of V Senthil Balaji in the Council of Ministers will adversely impact the due process of law including fair investigation that may eventually lead to breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the State.'
Denouncing Ravi's action, now in abeyance, Finance Minister Thangam Thennarasu said when the Governor himself has put on hold his decision it demonstrates that the action was taken without authority and validity.
"This is not legally tenable and Constitutionally invalid," he told reporters in Chennai.
To a question, the minister said: "The Governor has said that he has placed the matter under abeyance (to seek the Attorney General's opinion). What is the reason for that, after already taking a decision? From this you should understand."
He asserted that his party, the DMK, was a robust democratic outfit and it would face the issue politically and the government shall handle the matter legally.
Appropriate action plan -- legal avenues -- would be looked into and the right option would be chosen.
What course of action should be pursued at what time shall be decided in the due course, Thennarasu said, adding that all available options shall be explored under the stewardship of Chief Minister M K Stalin.
The main opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam reiterated that Senthil Balaji should be dropped from the Cabinet. The post of minister for Senthil Balaji was a 'shield' against the ED probe, the AIADMK alleged.
The BJP targeted Stalin for demanding that the Governor dismiss an AIADMK minister in 2018.
Stalin was then the leader of the opposition and the then AIADMK Minister Vijayabaskar faced graft allegations.
Speaking about the Governor attempt to dismiss Minister Senthil Balaji, Senior Advocate and DMK Rajya Sabha MP P Wilson said Ravi's move was 'void ab initio' and went against the Constitutional scheme.
He said only an investigation was on against Senthil Balaji; that does not attract disqualification, and this has been made amply clear in the Supreme Court judgments in the Lily Thomas vs Union of India and Manoj Narula vs Union of India cases.
Thennarasu said the Tamil Nadu government was 'disregarding' the Governor's action of sacking Balaji.
The minister alleged that Ravi acted 'unilaterally' and 'in haste' over the matter and decided to dismiss Balaji without getting proper counsel.
He wondered how a person who was already in judicial custody could hinder the investigation, as cited in the Raj Bhavan press release issued when the Governor 'dismissed' Balaji on Thursday.
Tamil Nadu Law Minister S Regupathy, answering a question, said Balaji continued as a minister without portfolio, and claimed there was no necessity for him to interfere in the investigation.
"Several Union Ministers have cases against them and they are functioning as ministers. Senthil Balaji is a minister without portfolio."
Senthil Balaji is an influential leader in the western Kongu region. He was previously with the AIADMK before joining the DMK a few years ago. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a case of cash-for-jobs scam. Later, he was hospitalised and underwent a bypass surgery.
The ruling DMK's party organ Murasoli said Ravi's dismissal directive was 'put on hold within five hours as per the advisory of the Union home ministry'.
The order to dismiss Balaji from the Council of Ministers has been kept in abeyance by the Governor until further communication.
Meanwhile, posters sprung up in the city, asking whether 'Guindy (Raj Bhavan is in the neighbourhood of downtown Guindy) would write to Delhi' about the pending cases against a set of union ministers, and seek their ouster from the Cabinet.