Eappadi K Palaniswami was finally sworn in as the 13th Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, thereby ending an unending wait for Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao to arrive at a constitutionally correct decision and also halting the unjustified ambitions of the former CM O. Panneerselvam. The internal fight within the two warring factions of the AIADMK has clearly established that V.K. Sasikala, the party general secretary, may have lost the battle to be the Chief Minister herself, but has ultimately emerged triumphant in preventing Panneerselvam from occupying the august office. However, the instability in the state is likely to continue for some time, till an undisputed leader with both mass appeal and a hold over the party emerges to inherit the legacy of J. Jayalalithaa, who after her demise has left the AIADMK with four and half years to administer the state. Thus it is for her party to ensure that the mandate of the people does not fritter away on account of the sharp differences amongst a handful of top leaders. As a matter of fact, the developments related to Tamil Nadu have raised questions to answers related to the action of both the judiciary as well as the Constitutional office of the Governor. Vidyasagar Rao has sufficient experience of political and public life so as to discern the correctness and application of the Constitutional provisions. His actions regarding the political deadlock in the state have left several legal luminaries wondering whether he was justified in delaying the appointment of the Chief Minister after he had accepted Panneerselvam’s resignation, an irreversible act. Either deliberately or inadvertently or under instructions from the Central government, Rao contributed to the confusion as he attempted to stop Sasikala from taking oath even after she had presented him with the signatures of around 130 MLAs who were supporting her. In the process, he virtually gave a lifeline to Panneerselvam to remain in the race by agreeing to meet him on multiple occasions. This was done evidently since Rao and his advisers appeared sure that Sasikala was likely to be convicted in the disproportionate assets case and therefore swearing her in would be futile. The question that comes to mind is: can the Governor or anyone else second guess the Apex Court and base his actions on the set presumption? The BJP and its spokespersons, as also some Congress leaders like P. Chidambaram, did their utmost to defend the Governor’s action, thereby propping up Panneerselvam, who continued to stake his claim without having the required numbers.
It might be argued now that the Governor’s judgement proved correct and Sasikala was eventually convicted. However, his actions left legal circles perplexed on whether he had overstepped the role assigned to him by the Constitution, and thereby encouraged political horse trading by delaying the swearing-in ceremony. After Sasikala’s subsequent conviction, an impression was sought to be created by Panneerselvam’s group that the MLAs were being held captive at a resort much against their will, though they continued to support the general secretary’s nominee, Palaniswami, overwhelmingly. At this stage, another argument was then introduced in Tamil Nadu’s theatre of the absurd that the two Chief Ministerial claimants should seek a vote of confidence through a secret ballot so as to ascertain their strength. Firstly, neither the Constitution nor the law permits for two CMs to prove their majority through a secret ballot, since the chosen one has to exhibit the numbers in an open and transparent manner. Uninformed sections of media insisted on painting Sasikala’s camp in a satanic light, while in the same breath portraying Panneerselvam as the sole saviour of Jayalalithaa’s legacy. No one pointed out adequately that when Panneerselvam’s supporters celebrated Sasikala’s sentencing, they were concurrently also celebrating the conviction of Jayalalithaa who was the main accused in the case.There are questions that are coming to the fore regarding the judiciary. The matter pertained to the period when Jayalalithaa was the CM from 1991 to 1996. It took more than 20 years to arrive at a verdict. The Apex Court as well reserved its judgement in June last year and should have announced it within three months, as per an earlier Supreme Court ruling. The delay in the judgement effectively meant that Jayalalithaa, who was found to be corrupt, could rule the state till her demise in December. The matter highlights the necessity to bring in judicial reforms to fasten the process of justice. The Apex Court judgement is final, yet it has not prevented citizens from asking questions regarding the order. A case of disproportionate assets can only be made against a public servant and out of the accused, only the former CM fitted the bill. Others were guilty of abetting her. Therefore after her death, the case against her had become infructuous. What needs to be explained in detail is how then non public servants have been sentenced under the disproportionate law. Should they not have been hauled up under either the Income Tax Act or other relevant sections which involve accumulation of unaccounted and unexplained wealth? No one can question the wisdom of the Supreme Court or the noble intention of its learned judges, but the final judgement continues to baffle some legal luminaries, particularly because it got juxtaposed with the dramatic political developments in Tamil Nadu. Greater clarity on the issue is needed. Vidyasagar Rao has also not covered himself with glory. Dr Subramanian Swamy, who had filed the case against Jaya, had continuously questioned his actions. In the end, Rao did what he should have done much earlier. Therefore, the Centre must immediately appoint a regular Governor in the state and not leave it as an additional charge. Between us.