Chennai: All eyes are set on the Madras High Court today as it is expected to deliver its verdict on petitions challenging the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs who had switched loyalty to sidelined party leader TTV Dhinakaran.
The verdict could have a bearing on the stability of the Tamil Nadu government led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy, who had assumed office in February 2017 with the backing of Dhinakaran but later turned against him.
Speaker P Dhanapal on September 18, 2017, disqualified the 18 AIADMK MLAs on the grounds of Anti-Defection Act and a gazette notification was issued declaring vacancies to their seats.
The first bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar, which had on January 23 reserved its orders on the petitions by the 18 MLAs challenging their disqualification by the assembly speaker under the anti-defection law, is likely to give the judgement this afternoon, news agency PTI said quoting court sources.
If the court quashes the disqualification, it would be a setback for the Palanisamy government, which could fall.
However, the ruling AIADMK is confident that its government would not face any immediate threat to its survival. They point out that in the event of a confidence vote, the 18 MLAs would be bound by the Whip and cannot afford to vote against the government.
If the disqualification is upheld by the court then there would be no immediate threat to the government as the effective strength of the house would come down to 215. However, it would clear the way for bypolls to 18 seats, which could be an acid test for the AIADMK.
In case of a split verdict, the matter will be referred to a larger bench, which again would have no immediate consequences for the government.
Besides, the option of filing an appeal is also open to both the sides.
Opposition DMK has been claiming that with the disqualification of the MLAs, the Palanisamy government had been reduced to a minority.
The ruling AIADMK has a strength of 116 MLAs excluding the Speaker but including S Karunaas (Mukkulathor Pulipadai), M Thamimun Ansari (Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi) and U Thaniyarasu (Tamil Nadu Kongu Ilaignar Peravai), who had won on the ruling party's two leaves symbol in 2016 polls.
While 18 MLAs owing allegiance to Dhinakaran were disqualified, the DMK has 89 MLAs, its allies Congress 8 and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) one in the 234 member strong House.
Dhinakaran got elected from RK Nagar in 2017 and he is the lone independent member of the House.
A court ruling adverse to the government would intensify the power struggle between the Dhinakaran, now chief of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, and the ruling party led by top leaders O Panneerselvam.
Dhinakaran, the nephew of deposed party leader V K Sasikala, had been claiming that the Palanisamy government would not last long.
The MLAs were disqualified after they had called on Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit expressing lack of confidence in the leadership of Palanisamy and seeking a change of guard.
The MLAs had met the governor on August 22, 2017, a day after then rival factions led by Palanisamy and his now deputy Panneerselvam merged their factions after deposing Dhinaknaran as the deputy general secretary.