The Madras HC verdict ordering status quo ante as on 23 June in the affairs of the AIADMK has once again pushed the party back to square one.
For those who thought the leadership tussle between Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) in the AIADMK had settled with the former being appointed as the interim general secretary of the party, sorry to break the news to you, it hasn’t, as yet. More so legally.
The verdict of the Madras High Court — ordering status quo ante as on 23 June, thereby invalidating the 11 July General Council meeting of the AIADMK which appointed EPS as the party’s interim general secretary, and expelled OPS from primary membership for anti-party activities — has once again pushed the AIADMK back to square one.
Going by the court order, the status quo would be that the dual leadership system will continue in the AIADMK, with OPS being the party coordinator and EPS, the joint coordinator. The series of new appointments and expulsions of party members made by both leaders after the 11 July General Council meeting will also become invalid.
The order of Justice G Jayachandran in the case has come as a huge reprieve to OPS, who was cornered by the EPS camp, mostly owing to his lack of political support within the party.
However, for EPS, who was warming up to his role as the interim general secretary of the party, the verdict comes as a big setback as he might have to wait for some more time, and go through more legal battles to once again become the single head of the party.
A day after the court order, OPS on 18 August, Thursday, extended an olive branch to EPS and called for unity in the party. While addressing reporters at his residence in Chennai, OPS expressed his interest in a rapprochement with EPS to “strengthen the party.”
Claiming that this was the wish of the cadres of the AIADMK, OPS urged everyone to forget about the bitter past.
“What has happened, happened. Now let’s forget about it and move forward to strengthen the party,“ he said.
Emphasising that unity is the need of the hour for the AIADMK, OPS also stated that he was ready to join hands with expelled former AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, a close confidante of late party supremo J Jayalalithaa, and TTV Dhinakaran.
Political observers in the state believe that OPS expressed interest in reconciliation with EPS because it could be the only way he can survive politically in the AIADMK. What the recent leadership tussle between EPS and OPS exposed was the glaring lack of support for the latter within the party. Some of the leaders who had supported OPS earlier had also switched sides.
However, shortly after OPS expressed willingness to work together with EPS, the latter shot down the idea.
Flanked by senior leaders of the AIADMK, EPS underlined that there was no question of them striking any compromise deal with OPS, and added that they also stood firm on the demand for single leadership in the party.
“OPS wants posts/ power. That’s the only reason why he extended the invitation to work together. He cannot survive without power. He wants positions for his family, especially his sons,” alleged EPS while briefing reporters outside his residence in Chennai.
He further stated: “He (OPS) wants us to unite. How can we do that? Instead of coming to the General Council meeting on 11 July, he went to the AIADMK headquarters with his supporters and police protection… Clashes broke out. Our cadres were beaten up. The door of the party office was broken open by rowdies… the office was vandalised and important documents were stolen by them… How can we unite with such a person?”
EPS also accused OPS of being in cahoots with the “evil force” DMK, which is the arch-rival of the party. This was also another reason why both factions cannot unite again, he said.
As far as EPS is concerned, he currently enjoys the majority support from the party MLAs, district secretaries, general council members, etc. Confident of this support, the EPS camp has decided to challenge the Madras High Court order.
Senior counsel Vijay Narayan, representing EPS, made a mention before a Division Bench of Justices M Duraiswamy and Sunder Mohan of the Madras High Court seeking urgent hearing of an appeal to be filed against the 17 August order of Justice Jayachandran. The judges said that the appeal would be heard on 22 August if it got numbered by 1.30 pm on Thursday.
A reading of the order highlighted how the EPS camp tried to bypass the bylaws of the AIADMK and stage-managed the entire process to restore single leadership in the party.
The main reason why the HC ordered status quo ante in the affairs of AIADMK as on June 23 is because it found that the General Council meeting held on 11 July was not as per the by-laws of the party.
In a nutshell, the HC found that the 11 July AIADMK General Council meeting was not convened by the competent person, which according to the party by-laws is the coordinator and joint coordinator, and not the temporary presidium chairman who convened the meeting the last time.
In addition, the said general council meeting was not convened providing 15 days advance notice as is mandated by the rules of the party.
Further, the court noted that the contention put forward by the EPS camp that the post of coordinator and joint coordinator had lapsed after 23 June was “borne out of imagination” and “invented to suit the convenience and cover up the violation of the party constitution”.
Subsequently, while ordering status quo ante, the court ordered that there shall be no Executive Council meeting or General Council meeting without the joint consent of the coordinator (OPS) and joint coordinator (EPS).
Importantly, the court also said that if a proper representation from not less than 1/5th of the total members of the General Council is received, the coordinator and the joint coordinator shall not refuse to convene the meeting. It should be done so within 30 days from the date of receipt of the requisition and it shall be held after 15 days advance notice given in writing, the court added.
For any reason if the coordinator and joint coordinator are of the opinion that further direction is required for conducting the meeting, it is open for them to approach the court.
What also caught attention in the order was the part where the court stated that: “The plea made by the respondents/ defendants (EPS’ side) that the majority of the primary members in the party feel that dual leadership causes inconvenience in the administration of the party and they cry for single leadership is not based on any quantifiable data. Particularly when very same dual leadership were able to run the government as chief minister and deputy chief minister for nearly 4.5 years successfully amidst various speculation and administering the party as coordinator and joint coordinator for nearly five years.”
The judge further added that whether the views of about 2,500 General Council members really reflect the views of 1.5 crore primary members of the AIADMK is a question that needs to be examined and tested.
The AIADMK, the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu, finds itself in a precarious situation after the court order.
The dual leadership system is back in the party, but the two leaders at the helm of affairs — EPS and OPS — cannot see eye to eye. There is so much animosity between the two leaders that the dual leadership formula has even less chance of working now.
With EPS challenging the High Court order, the party might witness yet another protracted legal battle over the issue of leadership.
The prolonged tussle between EPS and OPS, however, is not doing any good to the party. Apart from demoralising the cadres, the infighting is also one of the reasons why AIADMK is not able to fully play the role of an effective opposition party in the state.
Political commentators in Tamil Nadu believe that the longer this leadership crisis goes on, the more the DMK government gets a long rope, and the more the BJP will grow and project itself as the main opposition party in the state.