A question has arisen that, whether CM Edappadi K. Palaniswami commands a majority in the State Assembly or not. Dissident legislators from the ruling AIADMK have pulled back the ruling party’s strength in the Assembly.
On August 22, the dissentors approached the Governor with a memorandum expressing lack of confidence in the CM. And, on September 18, Speaker P. Dhanapal stated that this amounted to ‘voluntarily giving up their membership of the party’ and disqualified most of them.
The DMK leader, M.K. Stalin, also approached the Governor, demanding a floor test as the ruling party has lost its majority. When the Governor failed to act, he moved to Madras HC asking for a direction to the Governor to direct the CM to seek a confidence vote.
While dealing with the Arunachal Pradesh crisis in the previous year, a Constitution Bench said, a breakaway group could be legitimate and recognisable only if it constitutes 2/3rds of a party, as stipulated in the 10th Schedule, and the Governor could embark on a constitutional course of action only on the claims of such a group.
The court considering that Speaker might have been planning to disqualify the dissenters in an effort to bring about a majority in a truncated House, has passed an order staying a possible floor test that may have taken place.
There are precedents for such a move. The SC had ordered a ‘composite floor test’ in 1998 and 2005 in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, though among much criticism.
Taking up disqualification petitions for adjudication just before a floor test has now become a pattern. Disqualifying rebellious MLAs has become a favoured way of ensuring the majority of a CM. It is time for amending the law which confers on the Speaker the authority to adjudicate questions of defection. At present, the floor test remains the sole and supreme means of ascertaining majority. That is why it is crucial that, the partisan element should be taken out of anti-defection law, and the adjudicatory power must be transferred to an independent body such as the Election Commission.