Chennai: The Palaniswami government on Saturday won the confidence vote in the Tamil Nadu Assembly by a comfortable 122-11 margin after high drama and bedlam in the House.
The vote was preceded by eviction of principal opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and walkout by its allies, which have 98 legislators in the 234-member House, in protest.
Former chief minister Panneerselvam could muster only 11 votes, ending the prolonged stalemate triggered by his rebellion and by conviction of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief V. K. Sasikala after being elected the Legislature Party leader.
Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, while appointing Edappadi K. Palaniswami as the chief minister after he was propped by Sasikala, had given him 15 days time to prove his majority. The vote was taken after two adjournments due to pandemonium and charges of attacks by DMK members.
Speaker P. Dhanapal and Leader of Opposition M. K. Stalin said their shirts were torn in the fracas in the House.
Stalin immediately dashed off to the Raj Bhavan to meet the governor and complain about the incidents. Tight security was in place outside the Assembly to prevent any untoward incident in the wake of the do or die battle for the pro-Sasikala government.
When the Assembly met for the day, Speaker P. Dhanapal assured the members that they would be provided proper security. The Assembly witnessed unruly scenes with the opposition members insisting on a secret vote and wanting MLAs to be allowed to visit their constituencies and meet the people before they cast their vote.
This was, however, rejected by the Speaker who went on with the Floor Test when the House reassembled at 3pm. Claiming majority support, Panneerselvam, who had claimed he was forced to resign as chief minister, had met the Governor twice earlier during the month. Just hours ahead of the voting, the Palaniswami camp received a jolt when Coimbatore North MLA Arun Kumar left saying he would abstain from voting.
On Friday, MLA from Mylpore constituency here, R. Nataraj had said he would vote against the chief minister's motion of confidence.
Ailing DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi did not attend the proceedings. The floor test in the Assembly was the first such exercise in the state in about 30 years. Panneerselvam had vowed to continue his fight against Sasikala and her family "till the time Amma (Jayalalithaa) regime is restored." The combined strength of AIADMK in the Assembly is 134.
As soon as the House proceedings resumed at 3pm, the Speaker allowed Panneerselvam, Congress Legislature Party Leader K. R. Ramasamy and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) member Abubacker to make some brief remarks before going for the voting, which was taken up as division. Soon after his announcement, the quorum bell rang thrice and all the entry points to the House were closed.
The Speaker announced that the state government resolution moved by Palaniswami will be taken up in division in every block where those supporting and opposing it, besides staying neutral, should stand up for their respective choices. Subsequently, the division was held for four blocks as the rest two remained empty following DMK's eviction.
After voting, the Speaker announced that the Palaniswami Ministry received 122 in support and 11 against, drawing thunderous applause from the ruling benches with some MLAs also haling late chief minister Jayalalithaa. Soon after the Speaker declared the result, Panneerselvam and his supporters left the House. Dhanapal said Saturday's vote of confidence allowed the continuance of the Jayalalithaa government.
The confidence vote caps prolonged political uncertainty witnessed by the state since Panneerselvam revolted against the leadership of Sasikala on February 7, triggering a bitter battle for power in the ruling AIADMK.
Paneerselvam, who took over as chief minister on December 5 after the demise of incumbent Jayalalithaa, resigned on February 5 after Sasikala was elected leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party paving the way for her elevation. Since his revolt, though lacking the numbers, Panneerselvam had maintained he had the support of the public and the party cadres and would prove his majority in the Assembly.
After his rebellion, more than 100 AIADMK MLAs stayed put in a resort near here, waiting for the call from the Governor, though the rival group alleged they were being forcefully detained.
However, Governor Rao chose to wait, apparently for the verdict in the disproportionate assets case by Supreme Court, which convicted Sasikala and two others on February 14.
In a swift move, the Sasikala camp elected Palaniswami as their Legislature Party leader with the latter staking claim to form the government. Before proceeding to Bengaluru to surrender in the court there, Sasikala re-admitted her nephew and former Rajya Sabha member T. T. V. Dinakaran in the party and appointed him as the AIADMK Deputy General Secretary.
Sasikala also re-admitted another relative Venkatesh. Both Dinakaran and Venkatesh had been expelled by Jayalalithaa in 2011 along with Sasikala, though she alone was allowed to come back by the party supremo after some months.
Ending days of uncertainty, Governor Rao on February 16 invited Palaniswami and asked him to prove his majority within 15 days. However, apparently not wanting to delay the exercise, Palaniswami chose Saturday for the vote of confidence.
The Assembly witnessed a confidence vote after a gap of nearly 30 years. Incidentally, it was a succession row that triggered a faction war in AIADMK that had prompted a floor test on the previous occasion also in January 1988.
Janaki, widow of late chief minister and party founder M G Ramachandran, had then succeeded him in the midst of a bitter rivalry involving Jayalalithaa. She managed to win the confidence vote, but her government was a short-lived one as it was dismissed two days after the floor test by the Centre.