Power of a symbol: EC had to freeze AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’
Given the rival claims, the EC had no choice but to freeze the AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’
In the face of competing claims from the two factions of the AIADMK, the Election Commission did the right thing in denying both the use of the party name and the election symbol. While a majority of its members of Parliament and the Tamil Nadu Assembly have stayed with the group headed by V.K. Sasikala, friend of former Chief Minister and former party general secretary Jayalalithaa, the EC deferred a final decision on this issue, and passed an interim order freezing the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol for the purpose of the by-election in the R.K. Nagar constituency in Chennai. In a way, this is a significant victory for the faction led by E. Madhusudhanan and O. Panneerselvam, who have been maintaining that the Sasikala faction does not enjoy the support of party leaders and workers at different levels of the organisation. The decision, in effect, formalises the split in the party after the death of Jayalalithaa, and provides a level playing field to both factions in the by-election. The order wrote itself: to favour one faction over the other without examining in detail the veracity of the rival claims of support within the organisation across the State would have been unfair. This way, both factions are equally disadvantaged. Strangely, the two parties have been allowed similar names: the Sasikala faction opted for AIADMK (Amma), and the other faction AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma). Ideally, to avoid confusion among voters, the names of the respective leaders should have been given to the factions.
The by-election is critical for the future of both factions; in the event they both lose, the one that gets more votes is likely to be legitimised in the public eye as the true AIADMK. Both factions know that they will have to best the other before they can be ready to take on the bigger enemy, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The Sasikala faction raised the stakes by fielding T.T.V. Dinakaran, a nephew of Ms. Sasikala who was nominated the party’s deputy general secretary. This high-risk strategy can make or break the Sasikala family’s hold on the party. A victory for Mr. Dinakaran would give him greater moral and political legitimacy within the party, and, maybe, prepare the ground for a shot at the chief ministership. It is no secret that Ms. Sasikala nominated him to lead the party in her absence so that her family could control both the party and the government led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami. A victory for Mr. Dinakaran would be a setback not only to the Panneerselvam faction, but also to the authority of Mr. Palaniswami in the government. The opposition DMK, which made an unseemly bid to thwart the confidence vote moved by Mr. Palaniswami last month, is well-placed in this election despite having little to lose or gain from it. The focus will be on the AIADMK factions locked in a fight for survival.