Blind Adherence to Constitution Need Not Be Right

Circumstantial Factors Must also Count

Indian politicians smarting under intellectual impoverishment is not something many will disagree with.

But I do find it amusing when I see seasoned lawyers and political analysts behave like smart alecs and take positions that, to me, defy reason with a blind focus on the Constitution.

The rule of the law is all fine but that will have to be weighed against circumstances warranting a closer evaluation and, if necessary, even a deviation.

Sasikala’s Greed

A case in point is the political drama in Tamil Nadu that unfolded after late Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s associate, Sasikala, staked her claim to power by unseating incumbent O Panneerselvam (OPS).

Sasikala, who is facing charges in several corruption scandals, displayed a clear sense of greed when she got herself named as the AIADMK Legislature Party leader. She was able to get the support of the party MLAs either through coercion, as alleged by some, or through other means.

Her supporters, including possibly some Tamil TV channels such as News 7 as I see a slanted coverage, say delays in swearing her in may lead to horse trading. 

But how can we convinced that there was no money involved in getting party MLAs behind her? After all, she now has access to all of the wealth belonging to Jayalalitha.

Questions and Suspicions

With the Supreme Court set to pronounce next week its verdict on a corruption case against her and her relatives, her rush to crown herself with the mantle of the Chief Minister raises serious questions.

  • Why couldn’t she have waited for the verdict to be out?
  • Is she anticipating an adverse verdict in which case if she has already been sworn in CM, she can go to jail after nominating someone from her family or a trusted aide to the position? That was exactly what Jayalalitha had been doing whenever she was in jail, with OPS warming the seat for her.
  • When Panneerselvam has been doing a decent job what was the need to replace him?

With letters signed by 129 MLAs (out of 234 MLAs), she met the Governor yesterday, staking her claim to be sworn in Chief Minister.

Constitutionally, the Governor may be obliged to swear her in, but OPS contends that she has extracted the signatures under duress and holds the MLAs hostage, taking away even their mobile phones to prevent any communication with others.

Floor Test First

So, OPS wants a floor test and not any parading of the MLAs outside of the Assembly.

Some legal luminaries like Aryama Sundaram and a few Congress politicians (Manish Tiwari is one) say this is unconstitutional as the Governor is bound to swear her in first and then ask for a floor test.

That is fine under normal circumstances. Here there is an enormous groundswell of opposition from the public to Sasikala becoming the Chief Minister. So it is an extraordinary circumstance whereby the elected MLAs cannot be taken to represent the will of the people in a democracy.

Deferring Decision is Right: Soli Sorabjee

If she is sworn in first, the MLAs will stand by her as, with four more years to go for the term to end, they will not want to risk going to polls again as almost certainly 90% of them will not be able to make it to the Assembly again.

The people of the State are nervous about one of Sasikala’s corrupt relatives or a trusted lieutenant being called in to stand in for her if she is convicted by the Supreme Court next week. Rightly so!

That will make the situation too complicated and even signal a miscarriage of justice. Noted jurist Soli Sorabjee’s stand that the Governor is right in deferring his decision is worth noting.

OPS, therefore, is correct in demanding a floor test first even if it is not aligned with the provisions of the Constitution.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Tamil Nadu Politics

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