111 AIADMK lawmakers turned up at a show of strength meeting convened by Chief Minister E Palaniswami, or EPS, on Tuesday but Tamil Nadu’s ruling party AIADMK insisted that nine rebel legislators led by TTV Dhinakaran have extended support in-absentia, to support Chief Minister EPS. In all, senior minister D Jayakumar claimed the party had the backing of 124 lawmakers.
Tuesday’s meeting came a week ahead of the crucial meeting of the ruling party’s General Council next week that is expected to decide on throwing out the jailed party chief VK Sasikala as part of the deal to merge the two factions led by the Chief Minister and his deputy O Panneerselvam.
Reports that the two factions of the ruling party would edge out Sasikala had prompted her nephew TTV Dhinakaran to get 19 lawmakers to withdraw support to the Chief Minister. The 19 had gone to Governor CH Vidyasagar Rao last month to hand over identical letters that underlined that the Chief Minister did not have their trust any longer.
The rebel lawmakers have since then been sequestered in luxury resorts in neighbouring Puducherry by Mr Dhinakaran, who aunt Sasikala had appointed as the AIADMK’s number 2 before going to jail.
The AIADMK has 134 legislators in the 234-member assembly. That is only 17 more than the 117 needed for a majority. With 19 MLAs rebelling, Chief Minister Palaniswami was expected to be in trouble if he has to face a no-confidence motion. The floor test may no longer be a worry if the party has been able to split the rebels.
Nine MLAs from “that camp” (Dhinakaran faction) also extended support to the Chief Minister over phone, Mr Jayakumar claimed, emerging from the meeting held at party headquarters here.
In addition to the 111 lawmakers who attended the meeting and supported EPS, he said, three lawmakers of allied parties, who contested last year’s assembly polls on AIADMK’s Two Leaves symbol, had also pledged support.
Questioning the claim of the ruling group, key Dhinakaran loyalist lawmaker Thangatamilselvan dared them to come up with the names of those nine legislators and demanded that the Governor order the floor test at an early date.
“If Governor does not quickly take a decision in two days, we will decide on our next move,” he said. Mr Dhinakaran is scheduled to meet the Governor later this week.