Going by the rules?

Print edition : January 20, 2017
Questions are raised about the validity of Sasikala’s nomination when the party’s rules remain silent on an interim general secretary.

The elevation of V.K. Sasikala as the AIADMK’s interim general secretary has stirred a hornet’s nest. The fifth resolution passed at the general council meeting on December 29 unambiguously claimed that Sasikala would be nominated as general secretary and would hold the post until she was elected full-time general secretary. “It is just a matter of expediency as party affairs have to be managed smoothly,” a senior party member who is also a central committee member told Frontline.

Questions over validity

But views for and against this decision flew thick and fast. Many questioned the validity of her nomination when the party’s rules and regulations remain silent on an interim arrangement at the level of general secretary. Besides, the party’s by-laws empower those at the top levels of the party hierarchy, such as deputy general secretaries, to perform the functions of the general secretary in his absence. Rule 20 (v) says: “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.”

This provision is further consolidated with Rule 21 (ii), which says that the deputy general secretaries “shall assume the powers of the general secretary in the absence of the general secretary and perform the functions of the general secretary”. At no place in the 35-page booklet containing 46 rules is there a reference to any interim arrangement. Questions about Sasikala’s elevation as interim general secretary are no surprise, though it must be said that the resolution at the general council meeting did not use the term “interim” general secretary.

Besides, Rule 20 (ii) underscores the point 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”. Rule 43, on amendments, as passed in the executive council meeting held on February 5, 2007, makes clear that the General Council has the power to frame, amend or delete any rule in the party’s constitution, but emphasises 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”.

Also, Rule 30 (i) points out that elections of officer-bearers of the party’s various units will be held once every five years. “Those who want to contest the posts of office-bearers in the party organisation should have been members of the party for five years without any break.”

Sasikala’s nomination should be viewed in this context. An MLA said: “Since Sasikala was expelled from the party on December 19, 2011, and readmitted into it sometime in March-April 2012, the requirement of a tenure of five uninterrupted years of membership does not permit her to contest the election to the post of general secretary. She has to wait to complete her five-year tenure as a primary member before contesting.” However, he was confident that she would be elected as the full-fledged general secretary shortly.

The general council member argued that the present nomination of Sasikala as general secretary was in accordance with the provisions of Rule 19 (viii), which says that the “general council will be the supreme authority” and any “decision of the general council is final and binding on all the members of the party”. He said that it [Sasikala’s elevation] was a unanimous decision of the council. But the general council was ironically silent on Rule 21 (ii) empowering deputy general secretaries to function as general secretary.

“Instead of adhering to this, it chose Sasikala and pleaded with her to take over the reins,” said Cumbum Selvendiran, the party’s former propaganda secretary who quit the party in the mid 1990s protesting against Sasikala’s increasing interference in party affairs.

The other factor that works against Sasikala is the party’s rules on suspension and expulsion. Rule 30 (v) points out that those who left the party of their own volition or were removed from the party by the general secretary on disciplinary grounds will cease to be party members. If such persons have been readmitted into the party, their membership will be taken into account only from the date of their readmission and they will be eligible to contest organisational elections only after completing five years continuously as a member. The general secretary is vested with the power to relax this rule.

Under Rule 35 (xii), on disciplinary proceedings the decision of the general secretary shall be final. Those who approach courts on any issue concerning party affairs will forfeit their membership.

The post of general secretary is leader centric since it has always been with the supreme leader of the party. Rule 20 (i) empowers the general secretary with the “entire administration of the party”. He nominates “from among the primary members [who fulfil the conditions of eligibility] one or more deputy general secretaries and treasurer and as many headquarters secretaries as are needed”. Again, it is the general secretary who can allot the Two Leaves symbol to candidates contesting on behalf of the party.

He will “constitute the executive committee of the central organisation”. The general secretary will have the powers and responsibilities to convene the executive and general councils, the supreme bodies that run the party. The general secretary will preside over party conferences and be the one who can take disciplinary action, including immediate suspension, against party units and their office–bearers. Besides, he is empowered to handle the party’s finances by authorising the treasurer, a nominated post.

P. Palaiappan, the party headquarters secretary and Minister of Higher Education, in a letter to the Under Secretary, Election Commission of India, dated May 30, 2015, stated that “the Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Selvi J. Jayalalithaa has been unanimously elected as the general secretary of the AIADMK on 29-8-2014,” at the election. He also told the Election Commission that she alone filed nomination papers and was hence elected unanimously.

The next election for the post was to be held on August 29, 2019, he added. However, neither M.G. Ramachandran nor Jayalalithaa faced any contest.

Meanwhile, Sasikala Pushpa, Rajya Sabha member who was expelled from the AIADMK, has approached the Madras High Court against the elevation of Sasikala, citing violation of the party’s rules and regulations.