In a scathing reply to Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi’s letters on Minister V Senthil Balaji’s dismissal, Chief Minister MK Stalin has said that the letters require “outright disregard” and show that the governor acted in haste with “scant regard to the Constitution”. Mr Stalin said the governor has no power to dismiss his ministers and that doing so is the sole prerogative of an elected chief minister.
Starting his letter to the governor today with a polite “vanakkam”, Mr Stalin goes on to accuse him of issuing veiled unsubstantiated threats and points out that the chief minister and his cabinet enjoy the confidence of the people, who are “the ultimate sovereign”.
“I have received your letters dated 29.06.2023 one at 7.00 pm ‘said to be dismissing’ Thiru V Senthil Balaji from my Cabinet and the other on the same day at 11.45 pm ‘keeping in abeyance’ the said letter. Though your letters require only an outright disregard, I am writing to you to clarify both the facts and law on the issue on hand,” Mr Stalin’s letter states.
Mr Stalin points out that the aid and advice of the chief minister and the cabinet was neither sought nor given for both letters. “The fact that within a few hours after you issued such a strongly worded first letter, even alluding to ‘breakdown of constitutional machinery’, a not so veiled threat, you withdrew it ‘to seek the opinion of the Attorney General’. This shows that you had not even taken a legal opinion before such an important decision,” the letter states.
Quoting the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013), Mr Stalin said the Constitutional bench of the court had left it to the wisdom of the Prime Minister and the chief minister to decide whether a person should continue in their cabinet as a minister.
“Therefore, merely because an agency has commenced investigation against a person, he or she does not become legally incapacitated to continue as a minister,” Mr Stalin said, adding, “The above paragraph unambiguously states that disqualification is attracted only after conviction. Thiru V Senthil Balaji, as even your letter notes, has only been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for investigation and not even a charge sheet has been filed against him till now.”
The letter states that the governor’s apprehension that Mr Balaji may interfere with the investigation is “unfounded and baseless”.
Mr Stalin also said that while the governor has acted against Senthil Balaji, he has continued to maintain silence for months on his government’s request for sanctions to investigate/prosecute former ministers and public servants for offences committed during the previous AIADMK government.
The chief minister signed off saying, “Your unconstitutional communication dismissing my minister without my advice is void ab initio and non-est in law and hence has been disregarded.”
Amid a bitter standoff with the state’s DMK government, Governor Ravi had announced the dismissal of minister Balaji yesterday, only to pause the contentious order hours later, stating that the Home Ministry had asked him to seek legal opinion from the Attorney General.
Mr Balaji was arrested two weeks ago in connection with an alleged cash-for-jobs scandal.