Grace and poise in the face of imminent defeat is a rare political virtue. Even so, the behaviour of the MLAs of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam during the confidence vote moved by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in the Tamil Nadu Assembly marks an abysmal low. When it became clear that Mr. Palaniswami would carry the confidence vote, DMK members resorted to violence to stall the proceedings citing one excuse or another. They tore up papers, broke furniture, smashed microphones and took over the Speaker’s chair. After adjourning the House to see if he could restore a measure of calm, Speaker P. Dhanapal ordered the eviction of the DMK members. Members of the Congress, an ally of the DMK, walked out in protest. Those left in their seats were only the two factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, one led by Chief Minister Palaniswami and the other by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. Admittedly, this is hardly the ideal situation in which to hold a trust vote. However, the fact that Mr. Palaniswami won the vote 122 to 11, getting four votes more than what constitutes an absolute majority in the 234-member legislature, has lent his victory the political legitimacy he sorely needed at this juncture. True, some of the MLAs voted for the motion fearing disqualification, but this is no argument for the vote to have been conducted by secret ballot. Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, after due consideration, had quite correctly not taken to the idea of a composite floor test, a course which might have given protection to members from disqualification on ground of defection. Mr. Palaniswami was sworn in on the basis of signed letters of support from AIADMK MLAs, and he did not lose time in convening the House for the motion of confidence. If there were procedural irregularities during the trust vote, these were largely on account of the actions of DMK members.
The Leader of the Opposition, M.K. Stalin of the DMK, might have his reasons to feel aggrieved by the turn of events, but the proper forum for him to approach is not the Raj Bhavan or the court, but the legislature. If he believes that the AIADMK members, who were confined in a beach resort by the party leadership for the better part of two weeks, need more time to make an informed choice in the confidence vote, he can move a no-confidence motion against the government after giving due notice. But the suggestion that AIADMK members have statutory protection from disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is irrational. Mr. Stalin cannot look for political short cuts by condoning violence in the Assembly and questioning the legitimacy of a government enjoying, to the extent it can be institutionally ascertained, the support of a majority of the elected members of the House. Mr. Stalin’s time may well come, but he needs to show more patience than he did last Saturday.