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The political faction lead by incumbent Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvem (OPS) has emerged victorious in the battle for the ‘Two leaves’ symbol of the All India Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party and the AIADMK name.
The Election Commission decided the dispute in favour of the EPS-OPS faction after concluding that it enjoyed the majority support of AIADMK members.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party, once a united front that ruled Tamil Nadu under the aegis of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, was split into rival factions after Jayalalithaa’s passing in December 2016.
In the scramble for supremacy within the party, the party eventually split into three factions i.e. the OPS faction, the EPS faction and the faction led by Jayalalithaa’s former aide VK Sasikala and Sasikala’s nephew, TTV Dinakaran.
The immediate trigger for the case before the Election Commission was a petition filed by the then OPS faction against the appointment of VK Sasikala as the General Secretary of the AIADMK in December 2016.
The petition was preferred by AIADMK members E Madhusudhanan, OPS and Semmalai on March 16, 2017. In addition to setting aside the appointments of Sasikala and TTV Dinakaran as officer bearers within the AIADMK, the petitioners also prayed that the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol and the name of AIADMK be allotted exclusively to them.
Through an interim order passed in March, the Commission directed that no faction would be allowed to use the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol or the AIADMK party name pending disposal of the case. This was done in view of the elections to be held at RK Nagar, which was Jayalalithaa’s constituency.
The factions were however allowed to pick names indicating their connection to the parent party i.e. AIADMK. The petitioners (OPS faction) chose to go by AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma), with an Electric Pole as their symbol. The respondents (TTV-Sasikala faction) decided on AIADMK (Amma) with a Hat symbol.
In June 2016, EPS as well as J Deepa, niece to Jayalalithaa, were also impleaded as necessary parties to the case before the Commission.
In August, the number of intra-party factions were reduced to two as the EPS and OPS factions merged, effectively sidelining the TTV-Sasikala faction. As part of the merger agreement, OPS was appointed as Deputy CM for Tamil Nadu. Petitions filed against the said appointment in the High Court were dismissed.
In a party meeting held in September by the newly merged EPS-OPS faction, Sasikala was booted from her erstwhile post as General Secretary to the party. Over 2000 members were reported to have attended the event.
In the same meeting, J Jayalalithaa was named the ‘Permanent’ General Secretary whereas EPS and OPS were declared Coordinator and Joint Coordinator for party affairs. A petition made to stall the meeting on the ground that the organisers were using the AIADMK name in violation of the Election Commission’s March order was found to be devoid of merit and dismissed by the Madras High Court.
The Lawyers Involved
A host of Senior Advocates appeared on both sides. For the petitioners, CS Vaidyanathan, Guru Krishna Kumar, KV Vishwanathan, Manoj Pandian and K Venkatramani appeared along with advocate Balaji Srinivasan. Representing the respondents were Vijay Hansaria, Ashwani Kumar and Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The Election Commission’s Verdict
In an order passed on November 23, 2017, the Commission has ultimately held that the AIADMK party name and the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol belongs to the faction lead by the petitioners (i.e. OPS and others) and impleaded party, EPS.
The Commission applied the test of majority as understood from the ruling in Sadiq Ali and Another v Election Commission of India and Others. Essentially, numerical majority support was determined based on the support received for rival factions in the organisational and legislature wings of the AIADMK party.
Among others, a preliminary objection was made by the respondents that the test should be applied on the basis on documents validly produced before the Court. It was contended that many affidavits filed in support of the petitioners suffered from defects, whereas others were made through coercion, intimidation, forgery and bribery. Ten members who had previously presented affidavits supporting the petitioners came forward with allegations that they had done so against their will.
In this context, the respondents contended that the members must be summoned and cross-examined to ensure that natural justice principles are complied with.
The Commission, however, noted that it would be practically difficult to summon every member before itself or hold a referendum to determine majority. It was noted that the rule of audi alteram partem is not as rigid as made out to be by the respondents. Further, the interest of expedient disposal also assumes significance in the instant case. In Sadiq Ali, it was observed,
“The Commission in deciding that matter under paragraph 15 has to act with a certain measure of promptitude and it has to see that the inquiry does not get bogged down in a quagmire.”
Besides, technical defects in the affidavits by themselves did not signify support for the respondents or lack thereof for the petitioners. Even if the documents complained of were disregarded, the petitioners were nevertheless found to enjoy the majority in terms of numerical support. Bolstering this view was the fact that over 2000 members attended the party meeting hosted by the petitioner-faction in September.
Further, the petitioner was found to enjoy clear and undisputed majority in the legislature wing of the party. To discern support in the organisational wing, the Commission examined the relative support for the rival factions in the General Council of the Party, which was taken to be a fairly representative body for this purpose. In this regard as well, the OPS-EPS faction was found to have majority support.
Hence the Commission held,
“Having regard to the findings of the Commission m the foregoing paragraphs, the Commission is of the considered opinion that the petitioners group led by Shri E. Madhusudhanan, O. Panneerselvam and S. Semmalai, and also supported presently by the impleading applicant Shri E.K Palaniswami, the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, enjoys support….both in the organizational and legislature wings of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Accordingly, the said group led by Shri E. Madhusudhanan and others is hereby recognized, in terms of para 15 of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is a recognized State Party in the State of Tamil Nadu and in the Union Territory of Puducherry, for whom the symbol ‘Two Leaves’ is reserved in the said State and Union Territory.
Consequently, the said group led by Shri E. Madhusudhanan will be entitled to use the name of the party’ All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’ and its reserved symbol ‘Two Leaves’.”
Read Order below.
Image sourced from here.