Delhi High Court on Thursday dismissed the pleas of V K Sasikala, close aide of the late J Jayalalithaa, and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, challenging the order by the Election Commission of India giving the AIADMK name and two leaves symbol to the faction of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam.
Following Jaya’s death on December 5, 2016, OPS became Chief Minister. But he was forced out in February 2017 and, with her arrest for corruption imminent, Sasikala ensured that EPS, her handpicked man, became CM. In August 2017, however, EPS and OPS came together and expelled Sasikala and Dhinakaran from the AIADMK.
Earlier that year, both factions of the party — then led by Sasikala-Dhinakaran-EPS and OPS — had staked claim to the AIADMK’s iconic two leaves election symbol, leading the EC to freeze the symbol. This was in March, and the EC finished hearing the factions — now EPS-OPS and Sasikala-Dhinakaran — on November 8, 2017.
On November 23, it allotted the two leaves symbol to EPS-OPS, ruling that their faction enjoyed the support of the majority in the AIADMK’s legislative and organisational wings. The Sasikala-Dhinakaran faction then moved Delhi High Court in appeal.
Editorial | Two leaves and a party
Before 2017, the two leaves symbol had 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 had got rooster.
After the DMK won the elections and Jaya became Leader of Opposition, the two factions came back together in February 1989, and the AIADMK got back its two leaves symbol.
Why has two leaves been such an important part of the AIADMK’s identity, and why have rival factions in the party been keen to have it?
Besides the fact that voters are familiar with it, what is unique about rettai ellai or two leaves is the ease with which it can be depicted with just a couple of fingers, Subburaman Thirunavukkarasar, an AICC secretary who was with the AIADMK’s Jaya faction in the late 1980s, had told The Indian Express during the earlier phase of the tussle for the symbol in 2017.
“It is like a victory sign,” Thirunavukkarasar had said. “Even the DMK symbol of the rising sun is easy to show with fingers spread out like a fan.”
With Amma no more and the party lacking a prominent leader, both factions wanted the rettai ellai badly to keep themselves going. Indeed, a senior AIADMK leader from the OPS camp, while trying to explain the importance of the two leaves symbol, had described the situation in the party as “an existential crisis”.
Following Jaya’s death, the rettai ellai had become, to AIADMK leaders and cadre, the “face of the party”, Madras University political science professor Ramu Manivannan had told The Indian Express in 2017. The two leaves “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”, Prof Manivannan had said in an interview.
He had then estimated that the symbol was responsible for keeping at least a third of the AIADMK’s supporters, especially in rural Tamil Nadu, with the party. “The symbol has over the years left a deep imprint on people’s psyche,” Prof Manivannan had said. With relatively faceless leaders in charge post Amma, the rettai ellai symbol appeared as the face of the party itself.
The spokesperson for the EPS-OPS camp and former secretary of the party’s IT wing, Aspire K Swaminathan, had told The Indian Express in November 2017: “If the symbol is awarded to any faction, it indicates that is the official and original AIADMK. The symbol is incidental, a means of achieving a larger objective, which is to strengthen the party.”