For the AIADMK cadres, it is much more than an election symbol, they believe the party’s electoral chances rest on owning it, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Winning does not always mean ‘keeping’ too. At times, even to ‘win’, you will have to first ‘keep’ it.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam factions in Tamil Nadu are learning it the hard way, ahead of the R K Nagar assembly by-election scheduled for April 12.
The late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had retained the R K Nagar seat for the party in the May 16 assembly elections in 2016. Today, to win the seat, either faction of the party will have to first try and ‘keep’ the AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.
It’s another matter that they would have to identify a candidate who could win the by-election, which is a referendum on the post-Jaya leadership of the party, or party factions, to be precise.
If both lose, and the rival DMK were to win the seat, then either there would be fresh attempts to overthrow the government led by Chief Minister ‘Edappadi’ K Palanisami, or for re-uniting the two factions of the AIADMK.
Jaya had won the assembly polls by just over 40,000 votes. She had polled 97,218 votes against DMK’s candidate, Shimla Muthuchozhan’s 56,732.
A very respectable margin otherwise, it was not the highest for a charismatic leader like Jayalalithaa. Instead, it reflected the prevalent political mood in the state when the ‘Opposition’ DMK won the highest number of 89 seats in the 234-member house.
Together with the Congress and IUML allies, the DMK-led Opposition now has 99 members, enough to move and take on the ruling faction of the AIADMK, led by jailed ‘general secretary’ V K Sasikala Natarajan.
Already, the DMK has declared its intention to consider moving a no-confidence motion against speaker Dhanapal for his ‘conduct’ of the house, when CM Palanisami sought and ‘won’ a trust-vote as directed by acting governor, Ch Vidyasagar Rao.
The Palanisami government is also set to present its maiden Budget on March 16, which will have to be discussed, debated and voted upon before the end of the financial year on March 31.
With polling for the R K Nagar by-election due only on April 12 (followed by counting three days later), the Election Commission is duty-bound to decide on the symbol issue if the ‘rebel’ faction of the AIADMK, led by three-time chief minister, O Pannerselvam, challenges the automatic allocation of the party’s ‘Two Leaves’ to the ministerial faction, if the government side could be dubbed so.
Already, the OPS faction’s plea for not recognising Sasikala as the ‘elected’ leader of the party, as per the AIADMK by-laws, is pending before the Election Commission.
The EC served notice on the Sasikala leadership, addressed to the Paranagara Agraharam prison in Bengaluru, where she is housed as per the Supreme Court verdict in the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa and others.
The Sasi camp goofed up upfront after T T V Dinakaran, her nephew and party deputy general secretary nominated by her, responded to the EC notice.
Though the by-laws allow the party general secretary to appoint deputies of his/her choice, as the EC response pointed out, Dinakaran’s name did not figure in the official list of office-bearers that Sasikala had filed with the EC after her ‘election’.
The Commission thus gave a March 10 deadline for Sasikala to file her response -- which might in effect be a copy of what Dinakaran had filed, on substantive issues.
But the most substantive of issues before the EC pertained to Sasikala’s very election as general secretary. On that would hinge the EC’s decision on allowing the Sasi/ministerial faction to retain the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol for the R K Nagar by-election.
However, with the nominations for the by-poll opening on March 16, and the last day for the withdrawal fixed for 27, the EC has only that many days left to decide on the larger question of party leadership.
If the EC found the need for more information, documentation, and arguments, if any, then it could well be left with little choice but to ‘freeze’ the symbol, until after the by-elections are over, and the hearing on the ‘Two Leaves’ issue had concluded, later on.
This however does not mean that the OPS faction could directly stake claim to the symbol, which under the ‘Form B’ protocol for allocation of registered symbols for elections, rests only with the person recognised under the party by-laws and hence the EC, as its leader.
This would also preclude the third, MGR-Amma-Deepa Peravai claimants to the ‘MGR-Jaya’ political legacy , from claiming ownership of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol. Peravai founder and Jaya’s niece, Deepa Madhavan-Fredrick, was/is not known to have been even a primary member of the AIADMK even when aunt Jaya was around.
The bylaws insist that he/she elected holding any office in the AIADMK should have completed five full years as primary member of the party. Deepa would not qualify, now or in the foreseeable future, whatever the other favourable circumstances that might exist or emerge.
Already, the question has been raised before the EC that Sasikala having been sacked by Jaya under the relevant party rules in November 2011, and re-admitted in April 2012, she would not have qualified for being elected general secretary when she was supposedly elected to the post in December last.
This is not the first time the leadership and thus the ownership of the the AIADMK has come under a cloud -- and with it, those of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol. In the 1989 assembly polls, the first one to be held after party founder M G Ramachandran’s death, the AIADMK was divided as two factions, one under his widow Janaki Ramachandran, and the other under Jaya, his political protégé.
Both lost the elections to the DMK rival, which returned to power after a 13-year vanvas when MGR was around. Post-poll, Janaki retired from active politics -- she was never ever active in politics, barring those few months when she became CM, post-MGR.
The two factions merged, and the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, frozen by the EC ahead of the 1989 polls returned. There was then no looking back for the party, now exclusively under Jaya’s care and unchallenged leadership. The results were visible in successive elections, too, though one way or the other.
From then on, the AIADMK cadres have come to believe that the loss of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol was the main reason for the party to lose in 1989, and the return of MGR’s symbol was the one that helped the Jaya leadership to win the 1991 polls -- though the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, and the AIADMK’s alliance with the Congress at the time, were the real factors of those days.
Thus, when from hospital bed, Jaya was believed to have affixed her thumb-impression (duly attested by two civil surgeons) to ‘Form B’ issued to AIADMK candidates in three by-elections, the party had concluded that their victory in the by-election was a foregone conclusion.
Incidentally, with Jaya’s hospitalisation itself becoming the subject matter of speculation and controversies, and the Madras high court already seized of a petition for a CBI inquiry into the same, the ‘thumb-impression’ episode too might come under a cloud.
With memories fresh about the EC promptly allotting the ruling Samajwadi Party’s ‘Bicycle’ symbol in Uttar Pradesh, to the faction led by Akilesh Yadav in the run-up to the assembly polls, the temptation to compare it in the Tamil Nadu context is high.
However, the comparison should stop there. The SP bylaws make the general council, the highest party authority, for internal elections, as well. In the case of AIADMIK, the general secretary has to be elected directly by all primary members, supposedly numbering around 1.5-crore at present.
If MGR and Jaya did not actually go through the process of winning a formal party poll in which all 1.5 crore members voted, they were the unanimous choice, and they did not face any challenger.
In Sasi’s case, Lingam, the husband of Sasikala Pushpa, party member of Rajya Sabha who sacked by Jaya in her time, had claimed to have gone to the party HQ to file her nominations, only to be beaten up by pro-Sasi cadres, with the state police watching helplessly.
Lingam has already moved the court, though the argument against him was/is that he too had been sacked by Jaya from the party.
In this, Sasikala Pushpa may have a case against her expulsion from the party, as Jaya had not notified the Rajya Sabha secretariat of the same, nor has Sasikala as ‘general secretary’ done so.
The same might apply to the 11 OPS camp MLAs and 10 MPs, whom the Sasi camp might find difficult to notify the Parliament Secretariat for the two Houses, even if they were to defy the bench-mark’, for matters under the ‘anti-defection’ law.
The question would thus arise if the ministerial faction in the party would want to issue a whip, and/or seek to ‘disqualify’ the OPS camp’s MLAs, for voting against the trust-vote moved by CM Palanisami already, or ahead of the DMK’s planned no-confidence vote against the Speaker and/or against the Budget, later on -- but ahead of polling for the R K Nagar by-election
Whatever the case, from the time the governor notifies the by-election on March 16 and the counting of votes on 15 April, whatever the EC decision on the symbol question, no stake-holder has any right to move the high court or the Supreme Court for a judicial review in the matter. The law is very clear on the matter, and courts have jealously preserved and supported the provision.
Image: An AIADMK support tattooes former chief minister J Jayalalithaa's image on his arm. Photograph: PTI Photo.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and policy analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.