The 18 rebel lawmakers questioned the Speaker P Dhanapal's order to disqualify them under the anti-defection law on Monday that insured the EPS government against any embarrassment if the ruling AIADMK government had to prove its majority in a floor test.
According to sources, Dushyant Dave and former Union Minister Salman Khurshid will represent the 18 disqualified lawmakers while former Union Minister Kapil Sibal will represent the DMK in the high court. On behalf of the ruling party, it will be former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
At the heart of the legal debate that will unfold before the high court is the interpretation of anti-defection law under which the Speaker disqualified the lawmakers since no whip had been issued. The court would also be asked to rule on whether a letter to governor expressing no confidence in the chief minister can be inferred to a lawmaker renouncing membership of the party.
19 lawmakers loyal to VK Sasikala and nephew TTV Dhinakaran - the AIADMK's general secretary and her deputy before the posts were removed - had gone to Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao on 22 August to withdraw support to Chief Minister Palaniswami and demand the Chief Minister face a trust vote.
Governor Rao didn't act on this demand. But the AIADMK promptly approached Speaker Dhanapal for action against the 19 lawmakers after which three notices were reportedly issued to them. One of them later backtracked and was spared the axe.
The other 18 were disqualified, bringing down the strength of the assembly from the original 234 to 214, with the halfway mark at 107. This implied that Chief Minister Palaniswami now has a comfortable majority in the House with over 110 votes.
If the court upholds the Speaker's disqualification order, their hopes to pulling down the government and force a mid-term election would come crumbling down.
One of the fall-back options being considered by DMK lawmakers is to resign en masse. The DMK has 89 MLAs, the strongest Opposition ever in Tamil Nadu. Add to that eight Congress MLAs, a lone IUML member and the 18 disqualified members would push the number of seats that would fall vacant, if everyone were to resign, to 116. That would be almost half the House empty.
It would embarrass the EPS government but then, there is no surety that the AIADMK would go for mid-term polls. It could very well continue holding on to power for the next four years and go for by-polls instead.
Besides, there are at least 14-15 lawmakers who aren't reportedly ready to give up their seat. Two, there is a view that if it might be worth the wait if the DMK executes this plan on an issue that people can relate to so that voters don't feel elections have been forced on them before time. In all this, the DMK also has to account for a privilege proceedings pending against 21 DMK lawmakers for waving packets of gutka, banned in the state, in the state assembly.