Chennai: The Madras High Court on Thursday upheld the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs. The verdict was lronounced by Supreme Court-appointed Justice M Sathyanarayanan.
The case, which relates to the incident that happened a year ago, was referred to Justice Sathyanarayanan after the Madras High Court delivered a split verdict. Justice Sathyanarayanan had reserved the orders on August 31 after a hearing of 12 days.
Last year, on August 22, 19 MLAs supporting Dhinakaran met the then Governor Vidyasagar Rao and submitted individual letters withdrawing their support to the government headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami.
Subsequently on September 18, 2017, Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal disqualified 18 MLAs except STK Jakkaiyan, who had withdrawn his letter.
The hearing in the case began on June 14 this year and first bench of the Madras HC passed a split verdict, with the then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee upholding the decision of the Assembly Speaker of disqualifying the MLAs under the anti-defection law.
The other judge, Justice M Sundar, differed and set aside the disqualification order on the grounds of perversity, non-compliance with principles of natural justice, mala fide and violation of constitutional mandate.
While the ruling meant status quo for the Palaniswami government, some of the disqualified MLAs approached the Supreme Court, seeking transfer of their petition challenging the ruling from the Madras High Court to the apex court.
The top court ruled that Justice Sathyanarayanan would hear the matter.
Earlier this week, ahead of the verdict in the case, the 18 disqualified MLAs moved to a resort near the Tirunelveli district on the instructions of rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran.
According to reports, all the rebel MLAs barring P Vetrivel are likely to remain holed up at a resort in Courtallam till the verdict comes out.
The move came after Dhinakaran met Sasikala at Bengaluru prison amid reports that the EPS-OPS government is trying to poach the MLAs loyal to him.
The expected verdict is being watched closely as it may change the fabric of state politics in both the scenarios – if the disqualification is upheld or overturned.
If Justice Sathyanarayanan upholds the disqualification, it will lead to by-elections on all the 18 seats that would be vacant. This would turn out to be a litmus test for the EPS-OPS government, whose popularity has been on a decline ever since the death of AIADMK patriarch J Jayalalithaa.
On the other hand, if the Speaker’s decision is overturned, the AIADMK government would plunge into a minority and it would have to face a floor test.
Apart from the 18 disqualified, another four MLAs have also pledged their support to Dhinakaran.
According to reports, Speaker Dhanapal is mulling action against the four MLAs, including actor S Karunas, who extended support to Dhinakaran.
Including those four, the ruling party has a strength of 116 MLAs excluding the Speaker in the 234-member House. On the other hand, the DMK – armed with the support 18 rebel AIADMK lawmakers – has 89 MLAs while its allies Congress and IUML have eight and one respectively.