Tamil Nadu

The case of the disputed symbol

Print edition : April 14, 2017

Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam (centre) and senior AIADMK leader Madhusudhanan (right) while distributing welfare aid on the 69th birth anniversary of Jayalalithaa at RK Nagar on February 24. Photo: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

N. Marudhu Ganesh, the DMK candidate. Photo: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

AiADMK leader T.T.V Dinakaran after filing his nomination papers on March 23. Photo: PTI

ON March 22, around 11 p.m., the Election Commission (E.C.) pronounced its verdict on “Dispute Case No.2 of 2017”, freezing the “two leaves” symbol of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), while refusing to decide on the substantive issue of the election of V.K. Sasikala as that party’s general secretary.

The late night order read:

“Neither of the two groups led by the petitioners (Shri E. Madhusudhanan, Shri O. Panneerselvam, and Shri S. Semmalai) and the respondents (Smt. V.K. Sasikala and Shri T.T.V. Dhinakaran) shall be permitted to use the name of the party ‘All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’; neither of the aforesaid two groups shall also be permitted to use the symbol ‘Two Leaves’, reserved for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; both the groups shall be known by such names as they may choose for their respective groups, showing, if they so desire, linkage with their parent ‘All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’; both the groups shall also be allotted such different symbols as they may choose from the list of free symbols notified by the Election Commission for the purposes of the current byelection from the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar [RK Nagar] Assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu.”

The E.C. said that there were “practical difficulties in evaluating and adjudicating upon the huge evidence running into more than 20,000 pages adduced by both parties, and that too filed late in the evening yesterday [March 21]” apart from the oral submissions. Hence, the E.C. said it was “not in a position to give any final decision… in the short time available” and claimed that it was making an “interim order which may be fair to both the contending groups”.

Both the groups were asked to select a symbol from the list of free symbols by March 23 morning and a name by which they wanted to be recognised. The Sasikala faction wanted to be called AIADMK (Amma) and selected the “hat” as its symbol while the O. Panneerselvam (OPS) faction wanted to be called AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) and picked the “electric pole” as its symbol.

Both factions had their reasons for picking their respective symbols. The hat was popularised by AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) in his movie “Anbe Vaa”, and there was a minor hat-mania in Tamil Nadu at that time. The electric pole, with two lamps on either side, is the closest in the free symbol list that resembles the two leaves. Over 28 years ago, when the AIADMK symbol was frozen by the E.C., Jayalalithaa, who headed a faction, took the rooster symbol, while her opponent, V.N. Janaki, wife of MGR, took the two doves symbol.

Even as the E.C. was seized of the issue, State Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Tamilisai Soundararajan and a few other top BJP leaders made statements that the Commission would freeze the two leaves symbol. After the announcement of the verdict, Tamilisai claimed that this was “an expected outcome”, leading many political observers to wonder how the BJP was so sure that the symbol would be frozen. “The BJP has used the situation to its advantage. This is the truth,” said Communist Party of India leader Mutharasan.

The doubt of political party leaders has its basis in the reluctance of the E.C. to go into the election of Sasikala as party general secretary. Former AIADMK MP K.C. Palanisamy, who is now with the OPS faction, said he had filed a petition with the E.C. as early as January 6 contending that the election was not conducted as per the byelaws of the party and hence had to be annulled.

The E.C. decided not to act on this petition. The order of the Full Commission, comprising Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioners O.P. Rawat and A.K. Joti, decided that “it will not go into the question of appointment” of Sasikala as party general secretary.

“The present hearing would be confined only to the question of allotment of the reserved symbol of the party.”

In the dispute between the two factions, the key issue is the election of Sasikala as general secretary. The OPS faction claims that since Sasikala had not completed the mandatory five years as member, she was not eligible to contest as general secretary. Also, according to the AIADMK’s constitution, the general secretary has to be elected by all members of the party. This process was not followed in the election of Sasikala.

Many political commentators were quick to point out the dichotomy in the E.C.’s approach. The E.C. had taken unprecedented steps to work towards the goal of free and fair elections in Tamil Nadu. It postponed the Aravakuruchi and Thanjavur elections in May 2016 by invoking its mandate of holding free and fair elections. There are parallels in R.K. Nagar. The seat fell vacant on December 5, 2016. The E.C. had six months to hold the elections. Even before the commencement of the election process, problems had surfaced in the AIADMK, and the E.C. had received complaints on the elevation of Sasikala. Yet, it chose not to act.

The party head, in the case of the AIADMK its general secretary, signs Form ‘A’ of the nomination of a candidate authorising him/her as the candidate in an election. In the AIADMK’s case, the general secretary is also the authorised signatory in Form ‘B’ of the candidate, which seeks allotment of a symbol. In the case of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the president signs Form ‘A’ and authorises the general secretary to sign Form ‘B’. (A recent amendment to the DMK constitution now empowers the working president to perform all the functions of the president, including the signing of Form ‘A’).

The Sasikala faction contended that it had the numbers at all levels: The majority of the members of Parliament and the Legislative Assembly and general council members remained steadfast behind Sasikala even in the face of extreme stress. A second no-confidence vote in the State Assembly, pushed for by the DMK, this time against the Speaker, fell flat on March 23, with all the 122 MLAs of the faction standing by the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government. The Sasikala faction’s argument is that with such overwhelming numbers, there was no split in the party and that the symbol had to be allotted to the party.

The problem for both the factions is that there is no clear list of the 72,000 branch-level organisations and the nine office bearers appointed to each level. The AIADMK, under both MGR and Jayalalithaa, functioned as a monolith, and there was no requirement to actually hold elections among the ordinary members for the post of general secretary. Hence, no updated list of this massive number of office-bearers was maintained, a top source said.

Unlike the DMK, where each appointment is meticulously recorded in the party organ, “Murasoli”, there is no such streamlined system in the AIADMK. While many such appointments are indeed recorded in the AIADMK party organ, “Dr Namadhu MGR”, many are also left out.

Therein lies the real problem for both the factions. Legitimacy will be decided by these oft-forgotten, last-mile party workers. The challenge for the E.C. will be to determine which of the lists submitted is actually correct.

R.K. Radhakrishnan