Chennai: The 234 MLAs of Tamil Nadu will decided on Saturday if VK Sasikala loyalist Edappadi Palaniswami gets to rule Fort St George, the seat of power in Chennai. And all eyes are on one man — Speaker P Dhanapal.
So just who is this man who gets to decide whether Saturday’s vote of confidence would be a secret ballot — as demanded by team O Panneerselvam — or an open floor test?
Dhanapal is a Dalit leader who was one of the first to join MG Ramachandran when he founded the AIADMK, breaking from the DMK in 1972. He was also the first Speaker to be elected for the second consecutive term in 2016.
MGR handpicked him and made him contest the Sankagiri constituency (Reserved) in Salem district in 1977. He along with C Ponnaiyan, Panrutti S, Ramachandran and KA Sengottaiyan contested the Assembly elections for the first time after MGR launched the party. Dhanapal won the first elections. He won again from the same constituency in 1980 and 1984.
After MGR's death, when the party split into two — one faction led by the late MGR’s widow Janaki and the other led by Jayalalithaa. He chose to join the latter and contested the Sankaragiri constituency in 1989, but for the first time, he lost the elections. He was again fielded from the same constituency in 2001 and won. In 2011, he contested Rasipuram constituency and again won as Sankagiri was converted into a general constituency by then.
One year later, Jayalalithaa picked him as the Speaker. This was after Speaker D Jayakumar, another Jayalalithaa loyalist, resigned from his post. The government release did not give further details and had just maintained that the Speaker will discharge the duties while the office of the Speaker remained vacant. Six supporters of Jayakumar were also stripped of their posts. Reports suggested that Jayakumar's gala birthday celebrations had posters hailing Jayakumar when Jayalalithaa had warned her people that the posters should have only the pictures of Periyar, Annadurai, MGR and herself. So when the Speaker's post fell vacant, Dhanapal was elevated to the post.
And somewhere down the line, he got close to Sasikala and her family.
The Panneerselvam faction met the Speaker on Friday, but did not reveal details of the meeting. The camp has always reiterated that there should be a closed ballot so that they can prove their majority.
On Saturday at 11 am, we would know if the trust vote would be an open one or a closed ballot. But it is likely the Speaker will go the open ballot way. And as a precedent, he can point to Uttarakhand, where there was an open floor test recently.