Bypolls rarely decide a government’s fate. The outcomes are usually political blimps that the parties interpret according to their convenience and then continue with their politics. But when a government tottering without a majority in the assembly faces the bypoll test in 20 seats, it becomes a do-or-die battle.
The Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) government, which had celebrated the Madras High Court verdict upholding the disqualification of 18 MLAs of the T.T.V. Dhinakaran (TTV) camp, is now gripped with uncertainty as those 18 have chosen to face the electorate rather than appeal the Supreme Court. Add the two pre-existing vacancies and the stage is set for a virtual mini-referendum. The outcome can throw up a clutch of intriguing scenarios.
With four rebel MLAs among its current strength of 115 openly supporting TTV, the ruling AIADMK has been reduced to 111 MLAs in a house of 234. Unless it wins at least half a dozen seats, it cannot touch the halfway mark of 117. If the DMK and TTV’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) win the bulk of the seats, the two parties can join hands to bring down the government in a trust vote. The DMK and its allies (97 seats in all) could even reach the halfway mark if they sweep all 20 seats.
For someone who has displayed enormous staying power, enviable survival skills and loads of smart moves as CM, EPS is actually staring at the possibility of being destabilised. The ruling party was hoping the disqualified 18 would knock on the doors of the Supreme Court to challenge the high court verdict, giving it a few more months in office before the apex court gave a decision. But the TTV camp chose not to give that breathing space and instead challenged the ruling party to an electoral fight.
While EPS has been adept at holding the fort, he has not faced any electoral test...