Will the Dravidian majors, the AIADMK and the DMK, attempt to become king-makers at the Centre or re-establish their clout at the State level by focussing on the 18 Assembly segments that go to polls on April 18 along with the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies?

While the ruling AIADMK just needs four Assembly seats to retain power, the DMK must win all the 18 bypoll seats to topple the government. [With the passing away of Sulur MLA R. Kanagaraj on Thursday, the AIADMK eventually has to win one more seat].

The government, headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami, is ruling with a wafer-thin majority in the House, which now has a strength of 211 as against the original 234: while 18 MLAs were disqualified by the Assembly Speaker, one legislator, B Balakrishna Reddy, who was also the Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, had to step down following conviction by the court in a criminal case involving rioting; three others (including former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi) had passed away.

The AIADMK currently has 113 MLAs, excluding the Speaker, while the DMK has 97 in the House. Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) founder and president TTV Dhinakaran had won the RK Nagar (the constituency represented by former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa) byelection as an Independent.

Court rulings

In August 2017, the 18 MLAs loyal to TTV Dhinakaran met the then Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, saying they were withdrawing support to Palaniswami, but not to the AIADMK government. Following this, the Speaker disqualified them under the anti-defection law.

The MLAs appealed against their disqualification in the Madras High Court. On June 14, the First Bench gave a split verdict and the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which appointed a third judge to hear the case. In his 475-page order, the judge, Justice M Sathyanarayanan, said: “There is no error apparent on the face of the record and the reasons assigned by the Speaker did not suffer on the grounds of breach of constitutional mandate... and no perversity is attached to the reasons assigned by the Speaker to disqualify the petitioners.”

The order paved the way for holding the byelections, which will be held along with the Lok Sabha polls.

Decisions pending

While the byelections for 18 seats will be held on April 18, a decision has not been taken on other three — Tirupparankundram, Aravakurichi and Ottapidaram (SC) — due to petitions pending in the the Madras High Court. However, the court on Tuesday dismissed as withdrawn an election petition filed by the Puthiya Tamilagam party against the result for the Ottapidaram Assembly constituency in 2016.

A decision will be soon taken on the byelection for the Sulur constituency.

Going by the current arithmetic, the AIADMK has an advantage, considering that it has roped in the PMK and the DMDK as alliance partners to improve the tally.