Even as acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao ponders over options to determine who he would call to form the next government in the wake of a virtual split in AIADMK or whether he would order a floor test to ascertain which of the two factions enjoys a majority, the fact that practically all the party legislators were whisked away to a resort about 80 km from Chennai is being viewed with disfavour by political commentators and people at large.
Various moves are being contemplated by O Panneerselvam camp to get the support of these legislators in ‘virtual captivity’. Sasikala Natarajan camp, that orchestrated the resort politics, could face the heat in days to come as both the Madras High Court and the Governor have sought reports from the police on whether the legislators are being kept away from public life and from their families through coercive means.
Early reports said the legislators were denied access to newspapers, mobiles, Internet and wi-fi, but later they were presented before the media, and many of them claimed they were at liberty. But till now, the question why they are holed up there in the resort, which has turned into a fortress now, still awaits a convincing answer. The Governor, on his part, is keeping everyone guessing on his next move even as the Centre maintains a studied silence.
This unhealthy way of keeping the legislators away from crossing over to the other side has been practised many times earlier too in various parts of the country. Even in Tamilnadu, a month after sitting chief minister M G Ramachandran died in December 1987, the war of succession between Jayalalithaa and Janaki Ramachandran saw legislators of two factions put up in resorts. The Janaki faction won a majority which proved short-lived as her government was dismissed by the then Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre 24 days later.
In 1984, chief minister NT Rama Rao confined his loyalists in hotels in Hyderabad, Delhi and Bengaluru after he was sacked by Governor Ram Lal in an Independence Day coup by his Cabinet colleague Nadendla Bhaskara Rao. This coup of sorts was also short-lived. There were similar examples in UP in 1988 and 2002, Bihar and Jharkhand in 2005, Arunachal in 2007, and Karnataka and Uttarakhand in 2016.
But use of similar tactics in the past do not make Sasikala’s move any less reprehensible. It is indeed time that those perpetuating this practice be punished appropriately so that a deterrent is created for the future.