AIADMK elections

Election farce within AIADMK for party leadership

Print edition : December 31, 2021

AIADMK leaders Edappadi K Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam, who were elected unopposed for the posts of party co-coordinator and coordinator, at the party headquarters on December 6. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Expelled AIADMK leader V.K. Sasikala paying tribute to Jayalalithaa on her fifth death anniversary, in Chennai on December 5, 2021. Photo: PTI

Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at an election meeting in Tirupur in 2014. Photo: K. Ananthan

February 27, 1982: Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran proceeding to the Assembly. Photo: THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

The re-election of AIADMK leaders Edappadi K. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam to the top posts in the party was done in a manner that makes a mockery of the party’s constitution and weakens the party structure.

Amid allegations of deception, O. Panneerselvam and Edappadi K. Palaniswami of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu, were “unanimously” declared elected as coordinator and co-coordinator respectively in the party’s organisational elections held in Chennai recently. The two constitute the top leadership of the party today.

Election officials C. Ponnaiyan and Pollachi V. Jayaraman said that since no one else had filed nominations, the two leaders were declared “elected”. The elections were held on the instructions of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Elections for all other organisational posts, down to the branch level, are expected to be held in due course. The party was conducting its first organisational elections involving its primary members after a gap of five years or so.

Pre-election attacks

Many unsavoury incidents preceded the conduct of the elections for the top leadership posts. A few cadres and functionaries who came to receive the nomination forms were assaulted by an unruly mob at the party headquarters in Chennai. A senior cadre named Pratab Singh, who has been a party member since the days of M.G. Ramachandran, the party’s founder also known as MGR, was slapped and dragged out of the office for seeking the nomination form. The next day a lawyer was beaten up for the same reason. The Royapettah Police received complaints of assault and intimidation.

Similar acts were witnessed when V.K. Sasikala, the confidante of former AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa, was elected general secretary in 2017. The husband of Sasikala Pushpa, an AIADMK MP who sought the nomination form, was beaten up then.

Also read: AIADMK rejigs bye-laws to help Palaniswami and Panneerselvam continue as the twin leadership of the party

While senior leaders were silent on the latest unsavoury developments, D. Jayakumar, party spokesperson and former Minister, claimed that a “few unruly elements” who were not connected with the party tried to disrupt the election proceedings that were “held democratically”. He sought police protection for the party office. Many party functionaries, who wished to remain unnamed, expressed their displeasure over the way the elections for the top two posts were held. Sasikala issued a statement saying that it was “painful to see cadres get assaulted” inside the party office and declared that she would soon “save the party and its cadres”.

The election process was challenged before the Madras High Court. Senior counsel N.G.R. Prasad, appearing for the petitioner, J. Jayachandran of Arasanatti in Hosur, asked the court to restrain the ECI from approving the election of the two leaders. He argued that the two leaders were declared elected unanimously only after anyone else was prevented from filing nominations. He said that the party constitution bye-laws were tweaked and that the party had issued a farcical election notification and had not even published the list of voters. The court, however, reserved its orders.

Internal troubles

The AIADMK finds itself in choppy waters. Already, voices against the twin leadership are growing louder within the party. Several senior leaders strongly believe that “single leadership” alone can solve the issues within the party since the differences between the top two leaders is well known.

Anwhar Raajhaa, a former MP and staunch MGR loyalist, was dismissed from the party for expressing his views on the leadership issue. Even S. Semmalai, the party’s organisational secretary and former MP, had expressed doubts over the relevance of the twin leadership in “today’s political landscape”. He insisted that ‘single leadership’ through consensus would be a viable alternative.

A sitting MLA who did not want to be named told Frontline that Panneerselvam and Palaniswami had decided to bury the hatchet “for the time being” to address growing disenchantment among the cadres and because they were facing several legal issues. He said: “They know that it will be suicidal for them to confront each other openly, as it will not only ruin their positions of power within the party but also pave the way for Sasikala to re-enter the party with ease.”

Jayalalithaa died on December 5, 2016. Between the election of Sasikala as general secretary on December 29, 2016, and the latest election of the twin leadership, the party held two general council meetings and one executive council meeting.

In these meetings, the basic tenets of the party’s constitution were tweaked to facilitate the election of Panneerselvam and Palaniswami and also to oust Sasikala, who was sentenced to four years in prison by the Supreme Court on February 14, 2017, in a disproportionate assets case.

Also read: AIADMK's leadership crisis

As general secretary, Sasikala had appointed Palaniswami as the leader of the legislative party after expelling 20 rebels, including Panneerselvam, from the party’s primary membership, on February 15, 2017. Palaniswami, however, turned against her later and joined hands with Panneerselvam to expel Sasikala from the party after removing her from the post of general secretary. All these developments took place when she was in prison.

The concept of twin leadership was made possible for Panneerselvam and Palaniswami mainly because a core power centre, comprising former Ministers, MPs and MLAs, found the duo a convenient and pliable leadership for political and other exigencies. But political observers said that frequent tinkering with the basic tenets of the party also rendered its structural set-up more fragile now, exposing it to the vagaries of individuals’ whims and fancies.

At the party’s executive committee meeting held in Chennai on December 1, 2021, it reinstated Rule 20 (ii), which had been amended on September 13, 2017, to abolish the post of general secretary. The post was the supreme post of power in the party until then, and both MGR and Jayalalithaa held it until they died. The Rule was re-amended to restore the role of primary members in electing the general secretary.

Prior to 2017, Rule 20 (ii) mandated that the general secretary “shall be elected by the primary members of all the party units of Tamil Nadu and the members of the party in other States”. In fact, Rule 43, on amendments, as passed in the executive council meeting held on February 5, 2007, which Jayalalithaa presided over, made it clear that the party’s general council had the power to frame, amend or delete any rule in the party’s constitution, but underscored the point that “the Rule that the general secretary should be elected only by all the primary members of the party cannot be changed or amended since it forms the basic structure of the party”.

Contrary to this, the 2017 general council amended Rule 20 by abolishing the post of general secretary and replacing it with the posts of coordinator and co-coordinator. All the powers that the general secretary enjoyed were conferred upon the twin posts. Moreover, it incorporated a new clause that transferred the rights of electing the party’s top leadership to the general council. Former MP K.C. Palanisamy challenged these amendments in court, saying that the general council possessed no right whatsoever to amend Rule 20. The case is pending before the court.

Amendments and restorations

Wary of dissent within the party and fearful of poaching by other parties, the two leaders and the executive committee, at its latest meeting, resolved to restore to primary members the right to elect the leadership.

Since the post of general secretary has been abolished, the members now have to elect the coordinator and co-coordinator. The party declared Jayalalithaa as its “eternal general secretary”. The executive committee noted that the primary members would elect candidates for the posts of coordinator and co-coordinator on a single vote system. Accordingly, Rule 20 was also re-amended.

Also read: AIADMK vs AIADMK vs BJP

Political observers said that the changes to the amendments were aimed at stifling the voices of dissent that the twin leadership was facing for not getting themselves elected by primary members in the first instance.

Rule 20 remained unchanged for nearly five decades until the present leadership took over. A functionary said: “The haphazard way of amending the party’s rules is sending a wrong message across the rank and file.” The party’s original bye-laws empowered those at the top levels of the party hierarchy, such as deputy general secretaries, to perform the functions of the general secretary in his or her absence. The original Rule 20 (v) said: “If for any reason, the post of general secretary becomes vacant in between, the office-bearers who were nominated by the previous general secretary will hold office and continue to function till the new general secretary is elected and assumes office.”

The post of general secretary was all-powerful in the AIADMK until Jayalalithaa’s demise, and all the party affairs revolved around it. The council’s decision to transfer these powers to the coordinator and co-coordinator has become an issue of debate and discussion now.

Powers of general secretary

Rule 20 (vi) empowers the general secretary to convene executive and general council meetings, implement policies, conduct elections and byelections for the party, and manage the finances, properties and the legal proceedings. Rule 20 (xii) says that all authorisation forms to the ECI for the allotment of the party symbol to any candidate are to be processed with the signature of the general secretary, who can appoint additional office-bearers at any constituent units of the party.

Under Rule 29, the board for selecting candidates for elections must be constituted by the general secretary, who is the final authority on any election dispute amongst the constituent units.

Also read: AIADMK in crisis

Rule 34 provides for any office-bearer removed after a no-confidence motion to make an appeal to the general secretary. The general secretary “is empowered to remove or suspend any primary members” when immediate disciplinary action is necessary and, as per Rule 35, can also drop such disciplinary proceedings. Rule 34 declares the general secretary’s decision to be final and states that any move to approach the courts against the general secretary’s decision is grounds for forfeiture of membership.

Sasikala factor

Rule 30 (i) states that the election of office-bearers of the party’s various units is to be held once every five years. Those who want to contest for the posts of office-bearers in the party organisation should have been members of the party for five years without a break. In this regard, a senior functionary said that Sasikala was elected as general secretary under the “assumption” that she was a party member. He added: “But a perusal of the records said that after Jayalalithaa dismissed her, she had neither renewed her membership nor applied for a new one. Her election was an ‘oversight’ and technically a flawed one at that time.”

However, a source close to Sasikala said that the claim was preposterous.

He said that on December 19, 2011, Jayalalithaa expelled Sasikala and 13 others, including her husband M. Natarajan and her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, founder-leader of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), from her Poes Garden residence and party. Exactly after 100 days, on March 29, 2012, Sasikala wrote a letter of apology to Jayalalithaa and was readmitted into the residence and the party. He said: “Since then, she was with Amma until her death, monitoring all works of the party and her household.”

In an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court in V.K. Sasikala vs The Election Commission Of India & Others (2019), it was stated that she “was re-inducted in the party”. The late AIADMK leader E. Madhusudhanan had expelled her from the party on February 17, 2017. Challenging the August 2017 bye-law amendments and her removal from the post of general secretary, Sasikala approached the Madras High Court, which transferred the case to a metropolitan civil court.

Also read: Jayalalithaa’s legacy

In her plea before the civil suit in Chennai, she sought to declare that Palaniswami and Panneerselvam were “not members of the party”. She claimed that removing her from the party leadership was illegal and against the party bye-laws. The case is pending before the court.

Earlier, the ECI and the Delhi High Court had dismissed her plea, although the latter had noted that “the general council unanimously appointed V.K. Sasikala as general secretary of the party”.

The latest executive committee’s decisions have to be ratified by the general council, which is yet to meet. Rule 19 (viii) says that the “general council will be the supreme authority” and that any “decision of the general council is final and binding on all the members of the party”.

In a letter to the ECI dated May 30, 2015, the AIADMK stated that “the Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Selvi J. Jayalalithaa has been unanimously elected as the general secretary of the AIADMK on August 29, 2014”. It further told the ECI that she alone had filed nomination papers and was hence elected unanimously. Similarly, the duo of Panneerselvam and Palaniswami alone filed nominations and got elected unanimously as coordinator and co-coordinator respectively of a party that has been in the throes of a leadership crisis since Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2016.

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