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The AIADMK Edappadi government  may have got a breather through the disqualification of 18 MLAs but it will have to face a major political challenge in the form of 20 by-elections which will amount to a mini general election which can make or break the AIADMK government. Inmathi.com had already presented this scenario in an earlier article.

Besides the Tiruvarur and Tiruparankunram constituencies which are vacant and where by-polls could be held in January, these 18 seats could also see by-elections held simultaneously in January.

The 18 affected MLAs are Thangatamilselvan (Andipatti constituency), R. Murugan (Harur), S. Mariappan Kennedy (Manamadurai), K. Karthirkamu (Periyakulam), C. Jayanthi Padmanabhan (Gudiyattam), P. Palaniappan (Pappireddipatti), V. Senthilbalaji (Aravakurichi), S. Muthiah (Paramakudi), P. Vetrivel (Perambur), N.G. Parthiban (Sholingur), M. Kothandapani (Tiruporur), T.A. Elumalai (Poonnamalee), M. Rengasamy (Thanjavur), R. Thangathurai (Nilakottai), R. Balasubramani (Ambur), Ethirkottai S.G. Subramanian (Sattur), R. Sundaraj (Ottapidaram) and K. Uma Maheswari (Vilathikulam) were disqualified by Speaker P Dhanapal on September 18, 2017. By-elections are now due in these seats which are spread across the State.

The AIADMK now has the support of only 109 MLAs, while the DMK-led alliance has 97 (DMK 88, Congress 8, IUML) 1. Dinakaran is an MLA, taking the opposition strength to 98. In addition, six AIADMK MLAs  including Karunas, Thaniyaras and Aansari (who belong to different parties but contested and won on AIADMK symbol) are supporters of Dinakaran. With the help of these 7, the DMK can muster the support of 104 members in the Assembly even now. Of the 20 seats that will be up for grabs, if the opposition, especially the DMK-led alliance wins at least 13, it could be curtains for the Edappadi government as the opposition would have crossed the half-way mark in a full House with 117 members. Even if the AIADMK wins 7 of these seats, it would have a strength of only 16, which means the government can be defeated in a floor test.

The Edappadi government, using the support of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, has been a beneficiary of the Election Commission decision to postpone bypolls in Tamil Nadu.

The DMK could thus be the biggest beneficiary of the disqualification move in the long run. After all, of the 20 seats, the DMK had won only Tiruvarur in the 2016 Assembly elections, while the AIADMK won 19. Thereafter, the DMK has a huge opportunity to widen its base, grab extra seats and improve its strength, even if it cannot cross the halfway mark of 117 seats.

The AIADMK is scared stiff of facing the electorate whether it be the local body elections not held in the State for over a year despite court strictures, or Assembly by-elections. Its fear is genuine as seen in the poor performance in the RK Nagar bypoll despite securing the party’s Two Leaves symbol as a gift from the Election Commission.

Therefore, there are two more litmus tests for the AIADMK. The next round and final legal challenge in the Supreme Court on the disqualification issue, and the larger political battle in the form of bypolls. The Edappadi government, using the support of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, has been a beneficiary of the Election Commission decision to postpone bypolls in Tamil Nadu.

The byelections cannot be postponed beyond six months from now. Within this timeframe, the voters, the ultimate masters in a democracy, have an opportunity to tell the ruling AIADMK what the people think of the party and its government, and which way the wind blows in Tamil Nadu. Will the Edappadi government show the necessary courage to face the people in a short while or will it put them off on some pretext or other? The next few weeks could see an escalation in the clash between the rival AIADMK groups.

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