The Election Commission (EC) is expected to give its verdict on the AIADMK’s iconic two leaves election symbol, claimed by both the EPS-OPS and Sasikala-Dinakaran factions of the party, soon. The symbol was frozen in March, three months after J Jayalalithaa passed away. The EC finished hearing the two factions on November 8, and the deadline to submit written submissions passed on Monday.
The two leaves symbol has been frozen once earlier — in December 1988 — at the time of another crisis and split in the AIADMK after the death of M G Ramachandran. For the elections of January 1989, the faction led by MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran was assigned ‘two doves’, while the Jayalalithaa group got ‘rooster’. After the DMK won the elections and Jaya became leader of the opposition, however, in February of that year, the factions came together again, and the ADMK got back its ‘two leaves’.
Besides the fact that voters were familiar with it, what was unique about the rettai ellai or two leaves symbol, said Subburaman Thirunavukkarasar, an AICC secretary who was with the ADMK’s Jaya faction in the late 1980s, was the ease with which it could be depicted with just a couple of fingers.
“Like a victory sign,” Thirunavukkarasar said. “Even the DMK’s symbol of the ‘rising sun’ was easy to show with fingers spread out like a fan.” Now, Thirunavukkarasar added, with Amma no more and the party lacking a prominent leader, “it badly needs at least the symbol to keep it going”.
A senior ADMK leader from the O Paneerselvam camp, while trying to explain the importance of the two leaves symbol, described the situation in the party as “an existential crisis”. Deputy Chief Minister OPS, this leader said, has been touring Tamil Nadu trying to lift spirits in the ranks. “We are confident he will become a charismatic leader,” he said. “This has been a very difficult year for the party.”
University of Madras political science professor Ramu Manivannan said the rettai ellai is currently the “face of the party”. The two leaves symbol, he said, “has tremendous resonance with the people since it is still associated with MGR. After his death, if Jayalalithaa had not been assigned the symbol, she wouldn’t have done as well”.
Manivannan estimates the symbol is responsible for keeping at least a third of the party’s supporters, especially in rural Tamil Nadu, within its fold. “The symbol has over the years left a deep imprint on people’s psyche,” he said. It is all the more important, Manivannan said, because “the ADMK as a party is finished. The charismatic outlet it has been for Dravidian politics is finished. Now a bunch of faceless people want to have a face for the party, and the symbol is that face.”
On March 22, the EC ordered that “both the groups shall be known by such names as they may choose for their respective groups, showing, if they so desire, linkage with their parent ‘All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’; both the groups shall also be allotted such different symbols as they may choose from the list of free symbols… for the purposes of the current byelection from the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar [RK Nagar] Assembly constituency…”
Eight months later, however, the RK Nagar by-election, necessitated by Jaya’s death in December 2016, is yet to be held. It was cancelled in April following complaints of voters being bribed, and is now scheduled for December 31. Meanwhile, the man who was appointed Chief Minister by the Sasikala camp, E Palaniswami, has merged with the rival OPS faction to stake claim to the party.
Over six hearings at the EC, the factions of Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran, and EPS-OPS have sparred over the party symbol. The arguments have largely gone back and forth over the validity of the affidavits submitted by the OPS-EPS camp to establish the support of the party’s officer bearers, MLAs and cadre. The EC has already missed two deadlines to decide the issue — October 31, set by the Madras High Court, and November 10, set by the Supreme Court.
MLA P Vetrivel, who belongs to the Dinakaran camp, complained that the EC’s “body language suggests that they are not hearing whatever we have to say”. “We have shown evidence of fraudulent signatures but the EC is not taking us seriously. We don’t want to lose the symbol but we also don’t want the wrong person to get it. Especially those who are betrayers,” he added.
Spokesperson for the EPS-OPS camp and former secretary of the party’s IT wing, Aspire K Swaminathan, said: “The EC has given enough opportunities to both sides to put forth their arguments. If the symbol is awarded to any faction, it indicates that is the official and original ADMK. The symbol is incidental, and is a means of achieving a larger objective, which is to strengthen the party.”