The Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed a Madras High Court Division Bench decision upholding the conduct of a Special General Council meeting of the AIADMK on July 11 last year, which appointed former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami as interim general secretary and expelled rival O. Panneerselvam from the primary membership of the party.
“A workable solution was to be found; and when the solution as found and applied, does not otherwise appear offending the spirit of by-laws as also the norms of functioning of an association or a party, it cannot be said that declaration of the Presidium Chairman for the meeting of the General Council on July 11, 2022, and the follow-up notice by the office-bearers had been wholly unauthorised,” a Bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy observed.
Justice Maheshwari, who authored the 80-page verdict, also directed that an interim order of the top court on July 6, 2022 in the case was “absolute”. The interim order had permitted the July 11 meeting to be held. It had further directed that no restrictions should be placed on the agenda of an earlier General Council meeting held on June 23, 2022.
The court’s judgment would effectively allow Mr. Palaniswami, represented by senior advocate Aryama Sundaram and advocates Balaji Srinivasan and Rohini Musa, to continue as the party’s interim general secretary for now.
Mr. Panneerselvam was represented by senior advocates Ranjit Kumar and Guru Krishnakumar in the top court.
The July 7 meeting saw the General Council pass several decisions/resolutions by amending the party by-laws.
These resolutions included the creation of the post of ‘interim general secretary’ to be elected by the general council, abolishment of the posts of Coordinator and Joint Coordinator, reinstatement of the post of party general secretary to be elected by the primary members of the party, removal of Mr. Panneerselvam from the primary membership and holding of elections to the post of general secretary within four months.
Mr. Palaniswami had earlier last year assured the Supreme Court that the polls to the post of general secretary would be kept on hold for the time being when the dispute was on. Mr. Srinivasan said that Thursday’s judgment would allow the resolution to be “operationalised.”
Single Judge order
A Single Judge of the High Court had ordered status quo ante on August 17, saying that the General Council meeting could not have been held on July 11 without the joint consent of the then Coordinator Mr. Panneerselvam, and then Joint Coordinator Mr. Palaniswami.
Mr. Panneerselvam had contended that the General Council meeting was held “clandestinely and undemocratically to take decisions to alter the structure of the party.”
In a subsequent intra-court appeal filed by Mr. Palaniswami, the Division Bench of the High Court, on September 2, set aside the August 17 status quo order of the Single Judge.
The Division Bench had justified that the Single Judge’s decision would cause the party to undergo “irreparable hardship” as the two leaders were at “loggerheads” with each other and their rivalry should not affect the functioning of the party itself.
The Division Bench had however reasoned that the “balance of convenience” lay in favour of Mr. Palaniswami as the requisition for the July 11 meeting was made by 2,190 members out of the 2,665 members of the General Council.
“This amounts to more than 80% of the General Council members. The requisition was to be made by the members for deciding the issue of the ‘single leadership’... The requisition was followed with an agenda being signed and requested by 2,432 General Council Members… Thereafter, the July 11 meeting was attended by 2,460 members, and 2,539 members have filed affidavits before the Election Commission of India affirming their support to the resolutions passed at the General Council Meeting,” the Division Bench had observed in its September 2 verdict.
Besides, the Division Bench said Mr. Panneerselvam had per se only challenged the holding of the Special General Council meeting on July 11 and not the resolutions passed in the meeting.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Division Bench’s line of reasoning by not dealing with the resolutions made in the meeting.
“Though several submissions were made on behalf of the appellants [Mr. Panneerselvam camp] assailing the validity and correctness of the resolutions said to have been adopted in the meeting held on July 11, and in counter, the respondents [the Palaniswami camp] have attempted to justify the resolutions… we have chosen not to deal with any of those contentions,” Justice Maheshwari read out from the judgment on Thursday.
Justice Maheshwari said the court had refrained from dealing with the resolutions for the “specific reason that the decisions taken in the July 11 meeting do not form the subject matter of the applications for temporary injunctions which were restored by this court for reconsideration and ultimately decided by the Single Judge on August 17 and in the intra-court appeal allowed by the Division Bench on September 2.”
Noting that a suit was pending with the High Court covering the subject matter of resolutions, including the ouster of Mr. Panneerselvam, the Bench observed that “in the interest of justice, we leave all aspects regarding the resolutions open to be adjudicated in accordance with the law.”
The court said its judgment would have no influence on the pending suit, which shall be proceeded with on its own merits.