Setting the stage for assembly bypolls in Tamil Nadu possibly within the next six months, Justice M Sathyanarayanan of the Madras High Court Thursday upheld the disqualification of 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs linked to the T T V Dhinakaran faction by Speaker P Dhanapal last year.
Appointed by the Supreme Court to hear the matter after a two-judge bench of the High Court arrived at a split verdict in June, Justice Sathyanarayanan said that “there is no error apparent on the face of the record, and the reasons assigned by the… Speaker did not suffer on the grounds of breach of Constitutional mandate, malafides (and) non-compliance of the rules of natural justice…”
Justice Sathyanarayanan said that “no perversity is attached to the reasons assigned by the… Speaker to disqualify the petitioners”.
In first remarks on the order, Dhinakaran told reporters: “We expected a favourable verdict but it is not a setback. I will consult the 18 MLAs on whether to file an appeal in the Supreme Court. Personally, my feeling is we should go for bypolls.”
Thursday’s order is now expected to result in 18 bypolls over the next six months — and for two other constituencies lying vacant following the death of their elected representatives, including DMK chief M Karunanidhi in August.
The revolt of the 18 MLAs had brought the Palaniswami government to a minority last year before the disqualification order passed by Speaker Dhanapal on September 18, 2017. The government needed 117 MLAs in the 234-member House to retain majority, but 122 MLAs were ranged on the other side at the time, including 89 from DMK, eight from Congress, one from IUML and 24 with Dhinakaran. The minimum number needed had then come down to 107 with the disqualification of the 18 MLAs.
Citing the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1986, the Speaker had pointed to a meeting of the 18 MLAs with the Governor, and a letter handed over by them to him seeking the removal of Chief Minister Palaniswami, as a significant reason for his order.
On June 14, the Madras High Court delivered a split verdict in the disqualification case after a two-member bench headed by the then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar reached a deadlock, with the CJ upholding the Speaker’s order. The Supreme Court had then appointed Justice Sathyanarayanan to hear the matter.
While Justice Banerjee upheld the Speaker’s order, Justice M Sundar set it aside on multiple grounds, including perversity, malafide and non-compliance of principles of natural justice.
Justice Banerjee’s view was that the decision taken by the Speaker was a possible, if not plausible, view and that the court was unable to hold that it was unreasonable, irrational or perverse. Justice Banerjee held that the Speaker’s decision does not warrant interference under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Justice Sathyanarayanan said: “It is also a settled position of law that an order is not invalid merely because by a process of interference and if the decision of the Speaker is a possible and plausible view, this Court cannot substitute its own evaluation of the conclusion of law and facts, to arrive/reach an altogether different conclusion.”
The 18 MLAs with Dhinakaran, the nephew of ousted AIADMK leader V K Sasikala, had moved against Palaniswami after he joined hands with the other rebel leader O Panneerselvam. Once a trusted aide of Sasikala, Palaniswami was appointed as CM after the Sasikala faction defeated Panneerselvam in a floor test in 2017.
On Tuesday, Dhinakaran had shifted the 18 MLAs and three other MLAs in his camp to a location near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border.