Stalemate Settles


Election Commission’s decision on AIADMK symbol row comes as big boost for EPS-OPS camp as it legitimizes their claim to the political legacy of MGR and Jayalalithaa


In what is being touted as a major victory for the ruling faction of the AIADMK party in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission (EC) last fortnight announced that the party’s disputed ‘two leaves’ symbol will now be assigned to the Unified AIADMK faction led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. The ownership of the crucial party symbol was being disputed by members of ruling faction and AIADMK leader TTV Dinakaran, the nephew of sacked interim party general secretary Sasikala Natarajan.

Recently, Madras High Court had directed EC to settle the matter relating to the AIADMK symbol. The court had asked EC to decide which faction of the ruling party in the state enjoyed majority and allot the symbol. The election body has frozen the crucial symbol after faction led by former chief minister O Panneerselvam and former AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala had staked their claims on it. Later, OPS and EPS sections of AIADMK announced a merger.

According to sources quoted by a news channel, the EC reached the decision after hearing arguments from the two factions of the AIADMK – one led by Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam and the other led by ousted leader VK Sasikala. Official confirmation of the decision, however, is still awaited.

The decision comes as a big boost for the EPS-OPS camp as the symbol legitimizes their claim to the political legacy of MGR and J Jayalalithaa. As expected soon after the verdict Palaniswamy (EPS) tweeted. “It is a fair verdict by EC. We submitted affidavits to prove that majority of cadres are with us. Based on this, EC has delivered a fair decision.”

“With the Election Commission restoring the ‘two leaves’ symbol for the ruling faction of the AIADMK, the Palaniswamy-Panneerselvam faction is now the officially recognized AIADMK”, India Today TV reported.

The decision is likely to end a long-standing war between the two factions over the use of the symbol, which was escalated after the EC froze the symbol eight months ago. However, CNN-News18 quoted sources as saying that the Sasikala camp will move the Madras High Court against the verdict.

What sparked the row?

After the death of former AIADMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, a tug of war ensued between the then party general secretary, Sasikala and a breakaway faction headed by former chief minister O Panneerselvam.

The issue escalated on 16 March, when the OPS faction sought allotment of the two leaves symbol to E Madhusudanan, their candidate for the RK Nagar bypoll to be held in April. But TTV Dinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew and the deputy general secretary, wanted to use the symbol to aid his bid to get elected as MLA and make a more legitimate claim to the chief minister’s chair later.

With both the factions contesting for the symbol, the EC decided to hear arguments of the two factions. After hearing from lawyers of both factions and much deliberation, the poll panel decided to freeze the ‘two leaves’ symbol of the party for the upcoming RK Nagar by-poll. The EC also ruled that neither group could use the AIADMK name.

The by-poll was also postponed in April after complains of voters being bribed and is yet to be held. Since then, more than seven hearings were held at the EC, with the two factions presenting affidavits to stake claim to the party symbol.

The arguments in the case have mostly been concerned with the validity of the affidavits submitted. Both factions have been trying to establish their support of the party’s office bearers, MLAs and cadre.

The EC ruling on Thursday comes after it already missed two deadlines to decide the issue. The Madras High Court had set a deadline of 31 October 31 followed by the Supreme Court’s deadline of 10 November.

Earlier this month, the factions had submitted their final arguments in writing to the EC, citing their claim over the symbol.

According to the News18 report, Sasikala’s camp had argued that the present case of the AIADMK greatly differs from the Sadiq Ali case decided by the Supreme Court, which was cited by the rival faction as the benchmark. The Dhinakaran faction, meanwhile, had also urged the EC to “randomly verify 10 percent of the affidavits” submitted by the E Palanisami-O Pannerselavam faction that is currently ruling in Tamil Nadu.

Why both factions want symbol?

According to a report in The Indian Express, in addition to the fact that voters are familiar with the symbol, the symbol is unique as it can be depicted with just a couple of fingers.

The report quoted Subburaman Thirunavukkarasar, an AICC secretary who was with the ADMK’s Jaya faction in the late 1980s, as saying: “With Amma (Jayalalithaa) no more and the party lacking a prominent leader, it badly needs at least the symbol to keep it going.”

Ramu Manivannan, political science professor at the University of Madras was quoted by the report as saying: “The two leaves symbol has tremendous resonance with the people since it is still associated with MGR. After his death, if Jayalalithaa had not been assigned the symbol, she wouldn’t have done as well”.

Hence, given that the party lacks a popular leader that resonates with the people, the symbol is necessary to secure the already accrued vote-bank.

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