In a new twist to the AIADMK leadership battle, former Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) has been restored as the single leader of the party by a Madras High Court division bench order, which overturned a previous decision by the court that had resulted in EPS’s rival O Panneerselvam (OPS) regaining his party coordinator post under a dual leadership system.
The division bench on Friday set aside an August 17 order passed by a single-judge bench, which had nullified the results of a July 11 meeting of the AIADMK’s general council and restored status quo as on June 23. In the July 11 meeting, Palaniswami had been appointed interim general secretary — the single chief — of the party in a departure from the previous dual leadership structure that had Panneerselvam as party coordinator and Palaniswami as joint coordinator.
Friday’s order by the Madras High Court division bench of Justices M Duraiswamy and Sundar Mohan restored the decision taken at the July 11 meeting following an appeal by Palaniswami.
The division bench order noted that a party general council meeting held on June 23, with 2,190 out of the total 2,665 members, had given a written requisition for a general council meeting to discuss and pass resolutions regarding the issue of single leadership of the party. That letter, the order said, had been addressed to party leaders including Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, who were at the time coordinator and joint coordinator. In this context, the court observed that “everybody had valid notice and knowledge regarding the meeting to be held” on July 11.
The court also noted that Panneerselvam was present at the June 23 meeting, and that it was then that the decision to convene the July 11 meeting was taken. The Panneerselvam camp had contested in court both the decision to hold the July 11 meeting as well as the decisions taken at that meeting.
The court also said, “It cannot be disputed that the General Council is the supreme body in the party.” The order, citing party rules, said the general council was given authority to decide on policy matters. “The General Council held on July 11 was a requisitioners’ special meeting under Rule 19(vii) of the By-Laws. As already stated, 2,190 members have made the request to convene a special General Council Meeting. The requisition given at the General Council Meeting on June 23 was announced at the floor of the meeting,” the court order said, restoring the validity of the contested July 11 meeting that selected Palaniswami as the interim chief of the party.
“The present situation is identical to the situation that was prevailing in 2017,” the court said, referring to the situation in the party after former leader J Jayalalithaa’s death. At the time, then interim chief V K Sasikala was ousted from the party, after which the two rival factions — led by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam — merged. It was at a general meeting then that the two leaders assumed the roles of joint coordinator and coordinator.
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D Jayakumar, a former minister and a prominent face in the EPS camp, said the High Court order was “historic”.
“It means the meeting convened (on July 11) was not against party rules and that the expulsion of OPS is valid,” Jayakumar said.
While supporters of Palaniswami distributed sweets and celebrated the verdict, Panneerselvam signalled that the ruling would be appealed at the Supreme Court.