The state of Tamil Nadu was thrown in a state of turmoil post the death of the incumbent chief minister Jayalalithaa. With the top post up for grabs seemingly every AIADMK big shot were in the fray to be the Chief Minister. O Panneerselvam and Sasikala emerged as the front runners for the post once the initial dust had settled. O Panneerselvam, had taken over the reign, as caretaker chief minister from the time Jayalalithaa was hospitalized till after her death, only to resign soon after. And soon after his resignation he alleged that he had been forced to resign by the then General Secretary Sasikala. In reaction to this Sasikala convened a party meeting at her residence at Poes Garden and therein removed Panneerselvam from his then post of treasurer. With Panneerselvam seemingly out of the contention for the top post, the swearing in ceremony of Sasikala as Tamil Nadu’s next Chief Minister almost remained a question of when, and the answer to that was 7th of February.
However, a contingency to this was the fact that there was a long, 21 years old, pending judgment on alleged disproportionate assets, involving Sasikala. The Governor in charge, C Vidyasagar Rao, who had reportedly taken legal advice on the matter thought it better to postpone the swearing-in till after the judgment of the Supreme Court was passed. The Supreme Court in its judgment on the disproportionate assets case held VK Sasikala as guilty and in effect did away with any chance of her becoming the Chief Minister of the state. The judgment found Sasikala and two others guilty and barred Sasikala from holding a public office and contesting in the elections for the next ten years, her jail term plus the next six years.
Thus, with the judgment, O Panneerselvam was back in the fray to grabbing the top spot. However, Sasikala before surrendering ensured that a member loyal to her, E K Palanisamy was elected as the party leader and subsequently as the Chief Minister of the state. The legal scenario at this juncture was of particular importance, Palanisamy, even after being elected as the leader of the party, was still up against Panneerselvam for the chief ministerial post. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on this situation stated that if the Governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, believes that there are rival claims form within the same party then a floor test should be conducted, what a floor test means is that all the legislators, 234 MLAS, of the state would have to vote for a candidate, either Panneerselvam or Palanisamy.
On February 18thteam Palanisamy won the floor test by a comfortable 122-11 margin after intense bedlam and drama. Prior to the floor test taking place 98 out of the 234 legislators, principal opposition DMK, were evicted and their allies walked out.After Palanisamy won the trust vote in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the opposition DMK petitioned the Madras High Court to cancel the vote. In case the trust vote had been cancelled, the focus would have shifted to the behaviour of the governor of Tamil Nadu vis-à-vis asking for a new trust vote and government continuation or formation.
Amidst all these political mayhem, we cannot overlook the role played by the Governor, Vidyasagar Rao, during this phase. With a guilty verdict against Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case, the governor’s stand in not inviting Sasikala to form the government or prove her majority has been considered, by various people, as evidence of his farsightedness. However, the fact that the Governor essentially chose to suspend democracy in Tamil Nadu for quite a few days and continue with an unrepresentative and hence undemocratic regime instead, cannot be ignored.
There are more than enough reasons to belief that the Governor, a veteran of BJP-Jansangh for more the four decades, gave sufficient opportunity to anti-AIADMK forces in Tamil Nadu to try to dissolve the party. The party, which has probed the most in these troubled waters, is the BJP, whose support for the Panneerselvam group was quite open. It also has to be noted that Panneerselvam, in his brief regime, bartered away Tamil Nadu’s state rights when it agreed to the UDAY scheme which Jayalalithaa had strongly opposed to, on grounds of encroachment on federal structure. Though the Centre had found a docile collaborator in Panneerselvam, it could not make its place in Chennai as the majority went with the loyal AIADMK member, Palanisamy. With E. Palanisamy in charge of the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, the political turmoil seems to have subsided, although temporarily just like stillness before a storm.