In a massive setback for Edappadi Palaniswami and a boost to O Panneerselvam, the Madras High Court on Wednesday, 17 August, ordered the maintenance of the status quo within the AIADMK as of June 23 on party affairs, and ordered the party to hold a fresh general council meeting.
Justice G Jayachandran ordered that the meeting be convened jointly by the co-coordinator and joint coordinator of the party, adding that the meeting held on 11 July was invalid.
AIADMK leaders made Palaniswami, popularly known as EPS, the party’s interim general secretary during the 11 July meeting. However, with this order, this appointment stands invalid.
The decisions taken by the party leaders on the posts of coordinator and joint coordinator in the meeting also stand cancelled.
After the meeting, the OPS faction said the party’s praesidium chairman had no right to conduct the session. The party by-law states that only a general secretary, coordinator, or joint coordinator can convene such a meeting.
However, the EPS faction contended that amendments passed by the executive committee on 1 December, 2021, for the coordinator and joint coordinator positions had been rendered ineffective as the general council could not endorse them.
Since then, OPS and his supporters have waged a legal fight.
Approach single-judge bench, court tells OPS
A division bench of the Madras High Court on 4 July refused to intervene in the 11 July meeting and advised former chief minister Panneerselvam to approach a single-judge bench on the issue.
Hearing the plea filed by OPS, Justices M Duraiswamy and Sunder Mohan ruled that the order passed late on 23 June night applied only to the general council meeting held that day, and not for future meetings.
OPS moved the Madras High Court to stall the AIADMK general council meeting that EPS had rescheduled to 11 July.
He also challenged a contempt petition filed by Shanmugam, a general council member, to stay the election of permanent praesidium chairman.
Court refused to stall meeting
Justice Krishnan Ramaswamy of the Madras High Court on 11 July dismissed the pleas made by Panneerselvam and refused to stall the AIADMK general council meeting.
The bench also told the OPS faction that the court was refraining from intervening in the private affairs of the party.
The party’s council has the authority to frame, amend, vary, and rescind the party’s by-laws. In the absence of any statutory status attached to such by-laws, and when the majority plays a vital role in the decision-making process, this court cannot interfere with the party’s internal affairs, the justice said in his order.
The judge also came down hard on OPS for using the courts of law as tools.
He noted, “It is miserable that a leader, in the capacity of the coordinator, has time and again rushed to this court seeking interference, instead of approaching the general council and participating in the general council meeting and convincing one and all the members by introducing his ideas and plans for the welfare of the party members and development of the party to gain the confidence of the members to act in his favour.”
In a democratic setup, the majority’s will has to prevail; the general rule states that during a difference among the members, the majority decides the issue and rads the order, he noted.
The judge also said that the machinery provided by the party must resolve the dispute between the two leaders by its own rules and not in courts of law.
SC orders MHC to take a new decision
On Friday, 29 July, the Supreme Court asked the Madras High Court to take a new decision on Paneerselvam’s challenge to the 23 June general council meeting of the AIADMK.
The apex court directed the high court to dispose of the case within three weeks and ordered both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam to “maintain status quo” and not pass any more resolutions.
Senior advocate Gurukrishna Kumar, representing OPS in the Supreme Court, said the general council meeting was in contravention of the party’s by-law.
Meanwhile, on 6 July, the apex court maintained that the high court order restrained the AIADMK general council from passing resolutions and permitted the party to proceed with the meeting.
The bench was headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana and comprised of Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.
After hearing a petition from the OPS faction, the court ordered the high court for fresh consideration without being influenced by the orders passed by it earlier.
“We request the high court to dispose of the matter within three weeks maximum. The status quo has to be maintained by the parties. We have not expressed any opinion on merits,” the order read.
EPS faction unperturbed
AIADMK spokesperson Nirmala Periyasamy told South First that the order of the Madras High Court was not a setback for EPS as most of the party’s supporters were on his side.
“The order doesn’t bring any changes to the way we are proceeding. Our leader EPS has the most support, and everyone in the party as well as the general public knows OPS betrayed former chief minister J Jayalalithaa and the party workers. We will take up the issue legally,” she said.
Periyasamy added that OPS would stoop to any level to sell the party by adding others EPS had expelled from the AIADMK.
Asked if she meant Sasikala or TTV Dhinakaran, she replied, “You all know who I mean”.
“He is a symbol of betrayal. He promised to unearth the conspiracy behind the death of Amma (a moniker for Jayalalithaa), yet he told the Arumugasamy commission that the death was natural. He takes a different stand every time, which is why the supporters never went back to him,” she said.
Kovai Sathyan, another spokesperson for the AIADMK, echoed the same sentiments when talking to South First.
Senior AIADMK leader and MGR Mandram secretary C Ponnaiyan told South First that the Madras High Court order was not a boost for OPS.
“The court doesn’t have the right to decide who is the party’s coordinator and joint coordinator. It can only intervene in the procedure of conducting the meeting and not in the party’s internal matters,” he said.
He added that even if the AIADMK conducted the meeting again, EPS would be elected by the general-council members.
“Around 98 percent of the general-council members, who the Election Commission approved, are on the EPS’ side. OPS knew this, which is why he staged a walkout from the previous meeting and didn’t contest,” said Ponnaiyan.
Victory, says OPS faction
OPS supporter and AIADMK-expelled leader Vaithialingam told South First that it was a significant victory for the faction as the court’s order had fulfilled the dream of party workers.
“It is the order our party workers and we wanted. We are delighted with the order, and will strive to bring the party back to life. Our only aim is to keep our party in safe hands,” he said.
He said it was in the genes of EPS to not accept defeat. “Amma’s soul will not forgive EPS for what he has done to the party,” he told South First.
Asked if OPS could emerge the winner and if the comments of the EPS faction that 98 percent of the party workers were on its side, Vaithialingam said OPS was already a winner.
OPS’ son and Member of Parliament Raveendranath, in conversation with reporters, compared this order with the judgment that confirmed Jayalalithaa as the party’s permanent general secretary.
OPS’ counsel told reporters, “The order is a significant victory for OPS. The court has accepted our argument and delivered a judgment. The court has rejected the arguments and decisions taken in the general council meeting. We are waiting for the detailed order. The order clearly says the post of coordinator still exists.”
Meanwhile, supporters gathered at the residence of OPS in Chennai and celebrated the verdict.
Hours after the verdict, OPS discussed the significance of the party’s coordinator before he left for the Jayalalithaa’s memorial in Marina Beach in Chennai.
“Today’s verdict has confirmed that justice, charity, volunteers, the public, and especially God will not accept anyone’s arbitrary and illegal usurpation of not only the next person’s house but also the political party,” he said.
Panneerselvam also noted that those who despised the rules laid down by the founder and revolutionary leader of the party would fall.
“The AIADMK will become an unshakable fortress of steel, and it is destined to succeed,” he said.