In yet another case of 'resort politics' in Tamil Nadu, most of the 18 disqualified legislators of the ruling AIADMK have been moved to a hotel in the waterfall town of Courtallam in Tirunelveli district, about 600 km from Chennai.
The disqualified legislators are supporters of jailed and ousted AIADMK chief VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. The Tamil Nadu Speaker had disqualified them last year, invoking the anti-defection law after they wrote to the state Governor seeking the replacement of Chief Minister E Palaniswami. Their letter had also mentioned that they are not withdrawing their support to the AIADMK government.
The move to shift the disqualified legislators to a resort comes amid speculation that the Madras High Court may give its verdict in the case today or next week and is seen as an attempt to prevent any poaching by the AIADMK led by Mr Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam. Should the court set aside the Speaker's order, these members would turn legislators who could potentially bring down the current AIADMK government.
However, K Vetrivel - one of the disqualified legislators - said, "Our members took a holy dip in River Thamarabarani as part of the Puskaram. That's why they are staying together in the resort."
Earlier in June, a two-judge bench of the Madras High Court had given a split verdict and so the upcoming order could prove to be a make or break for both sides.
Last year, the AIADMK, then under VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran, too had moved all the party's legislators to a tourist resort outside Chennai at Koovathur to guard them from the then chief minister O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against the dominance of Sasikala's family in the party. However, soon Sasikala was convicted in the disproportionate assets case filed against former chief minister Jayalalithaa and her. In the months that followed, Mr Panneerselvam and Mr Palaniswami patched up and showed the door to Sasikala.
Currently, with 20 seats vacant - including the 18 disqualified legislators - the Tamil Nadu assembly has a total strength of only 214 in the 234 member house; with 116 legislators, the ruling AIADMK is well above the half way mark of 107. However, if the disqualification of 18 legislators is set aside, the assembly strength would go up to 232 and with 116 legislators, the AIADMK would run one short of legislators for a simple majority of 117 and the government could potentially fall if the legislators with Mr Dhinakaran vote against Mr Palaniswami.
The ruling AIADMK is hoping if the disqualification is set aside, some of the legislators could switch sides from the Dhinakaran camp.
If the Dhinakaran camp gets a new lease of life with a favourable order and if his legislators stand with him, they could decide to bring down the government at the cost of losing their membership and pave the way for fresh elections. Mr Dhinakaran could also arm twist the ruling AIADMK to give him and his supporters plum positions in the party and the government besides replacing chief minister Palaniswami with a mutually accepted face.