On May 6, the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings initiated by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal for the disqualification of three MLAs of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) — E. Rathinasabapathy (representing Aranthangi constituency), V.T. Kalaiselvan (Virudhachalam) and A. Prabhu (Kallakurichi) under the anti-defection law.

How did it come about?
It was alleged that MLAs associated with T.T.V. Dhinakaran, general secretary of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). Three days later, the Speaker issued show-cause notices to them.

What is the justification given by MLAs?
The rebel MLAs made two arguments in the Supreme Court.

One, they accused the Speaker of having “acted in a partisan and biased manner”.

Two, they contended that Mr. Dhanapal should not act on the disqualification matter while a motion of no-confidence was pending against him.

Have MLAs left AIADMK?
As on date, the three MLAs do not deny that their sympathies lie with Mr. Dhinakaran or, to be precise, with V.K. Sasikala, confidante of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and now serving a prison term in Bengaluru after being convicted in a disproportionate assets case. But the three maintain they are not members of the AMMK. Few days prior, AMMK has applied to the Election Commission of India for registration as a political party.

The AIADMK’s plan was to establish that by supporting Mr. Dhinakaran, the three MLAs had “voluntarily given up” membership of the party. It was the same ground on which 18 pro-Dhinakaran MLAs were disqualified in September 2017.

Why does it matter?
Presently, there are 22 vacancies in Tamil Naidu Legislative assembly. The elections are due for the vacant seats.

AIADMK has 114 MLAs including the Speaker. If the Supreme Court had not stayed the disqualification proceedings, the Assembly’s strength would be down to 231. In that case, the AIADMK would need only 116 members, just two more than its present strength.

What are the rules on disqualification?
As per Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, a Member of Parliament or Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council can be disqualified on two grounds: if the member voluntarily gives up membership of the party on whose ticket he or she got elected; or, if the member votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction of such party.

However, disqualification may be avoided if the party leadership condones the vote or abstention within 15 days. The procedure for disqualification is laid down in the Members of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1986. Each State has similar rules.

What lies ahead?
After the Supreme Court’s notice is served on the Assembly Speaker and his office, the normal practice is that the Assembly Secretary will file a response.

The results of the by-elections to 22 Assembly constituencies will also have a bearing on what happens from now on. If the ruling AIADMK wins a comfortable number of seats, it won’t mind if the motion against the Speaker is taken up first. This will have the effect of rendering redundant one of the arguments of the rebel legislators: the Speaker facing a motion for his own removal should not adjudicate disqualification issues. There are at least two more MLAs against whom the party may initiate action for going against the AIADMK leadership.

If the DMK wins in all 22 seats, there can be a regime change, which may be followed by the election of a new Speaker. In that case, the disqualification proceedings may not be pursued at all.