India legislators come to blows before confidence vote

V. K. Sasikala
V. K. Sasikala

V. K. Sasikala

Indian legislators came to blows Saturday, ripping out microphones and breaking chairs as the new leader of Tamil Nadu state sought to win a vote of confidence in the regional assembly.

Shouting slogans, legislators disrupted the assembly as Edappadi Palanisamy, who was recently sworn in as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, sought a majority for his government, looking to cement his position following the death of his predecessor Jayalalithaa Jayaram in December.

Her death triggered a weeks-long battle over succession marked by bitter infighting, with Palanisamy taking the reins on Thursday after his ally Sasikala was spectacularly hauled off to prison for graft just as she was on the verge of becoming chief minister of the southern state.

As Saturday’s vote got under way, members of the opposition ripped papers, toppled tables and threw microphones to demand a secret ballot that would potentially allow legislators from the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party to switch sides, according to media reports.

Television footage showed legislators storming the well of the house and manhandling each other, injuring at least one member who was carried out on a stretcher.

The vote was adjourned until 3 p.m. (0930 GMT) as the speaker, who was whisked away to safety by marshals, ordered the eviction of disruptive legislators.

Palanisamy, 63, will need to win at least 117 votes in the 234-member state assembly for a clear mandate, which could potentially end a long-running tussle for power within the AIADMK party.

Tamil Nadu, one of India’s most prosperous states, was plunged into political crisis following Jayalalithaa’s sudden death.

Her close aide Sasikala — a one-time video cassette seller who has never held political office or stood for election — emerged as the heir apparent until she was convicted Tuesday of amassing illegal assets worth $10 million, barring her from holding office for a decade.

The corruption case dates back to the late 1990s, when Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were accused of profiting from the chief minister’s office and acquiring wealth beyond their income.

They were jointly accused of illegally amassing bungalows, luxury cars, tea estates and vast quantities of gold.

Sasikala had earlier kept several dozen legislators in a resort outside Chennai over fears her opponents’ camp might try to poach them in the battle for succession.

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