In a severe blow to the AIADMK faction led by the now jailed VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, the Election Commission on Thursday allotted the hugely popular "two leaves" symbol to the faction led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.
The announcement was greeted with joy by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam while their supporters burst crackers and distributed sweets.
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"The Commission is of the considered opinion that the petitioners group led by E Madhusudhanan, O Panneerselvam and S Semmalai and also supported presently by the impleading applicant K. Palaniswami enjoys support of majority of members, both in the organisational and legislature wings of the AIADMK.
"The group led by Madhusudhanan and others is hereby recognized as the AIADMK, which is a recognized State Party in Tamil Nadu and in Puducherry, for whom the symbol 'two leaves' is reserved," the Commission said in an 83-page order on the dispute in the party that arose after the death of then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
It said the group led by Madhusudhanan would be entitled to use the name of the party and 'two leaves'. The group led by Madhusudhanan was recognised in terms of para 15 of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, as the AIADMK, it said.
"We have got the symbol... We will decide on the candidate for RK Nagar constituency after discussing with party leaders," a visibly pleased Palaniswami said. The by-election, caused by Jayalalithaa's death, has to be held by December 31.
"The Election Commission has given a just decision. We are happy and the party's 1.5 crore members will be happy," he said.
But Dinakaran said the Election Commission's order would be challenged in the court, alleging the poll body had not acted in a neutral manner.
He also wondered why the poll body froze the symbol and the name in March when the faction led by Sasikala and Dinakaran had the support of 122 legislators and 37 MPs.
The Commission rejected the contention.
"The Commission does not see any merit in the argument... The Commission had not prohibited by the interim order any merger between the rival groups for the purpose of their unification," it said.
The Commission recalled that even when a dispute arose in AIADMK in 1987 after the death of Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, it took into account the subsequent developments in the party which led to the merger and unification of rival factions.
On the claims by the Sasikala faction that millions of AIADMK members in Tamil Nadu and adjoining states were with it, the Commission said it cannot be expected to hold a referendum among the primary members and verify individual claims.
Disallowing the plea of the Sasikala group, the Commission said the group headed by the Chief Minister has demonstrated overwhelming support among the members of the General Council and the Commission recognised the majority support of the ruling group in the organisational wing of the party.
It said the ruling group enjoyed the support of 34 Lok Sabha MPs, 8 Rajya Sabha MPs and 111 MLAs against the support of 3 MPs each in both Houses of Parliament and 20 MLAs, including 18 disqualified in the state, by the Sasikala faction.
It said the interim order dated March 22 passed by the Commission in the context of R.K Nagar by-election was hereby withdrawn and rescinded and that order shall no longer be operative for any purposes under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
After the death of Jayalalithaa in December last year, the AIADMK split into two factions -- one led by Panneerselvam and the other by the now jailed Sasikala.
Later, the Sasikala faction broke up again, with Chief Minister Palaniswami branching away and forming a government with the backing of Panneerselvam. The two factions started sidelining the AIADMK group led by Sasikala.
Later, the Panneerselvam and Palaniswami factions merged, annulled the appointment of Sasikala as General Secretary and struck down the appointments made by her before she went to jail for corruption.