Fight over symbol: A ‘leaf’ from history

Current tussle over AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol rekindles memories of a similar fight in 1988

Updated - March 23, 2017 02:37 am IST

Published - March 23, 2017 01:07 am IST - CHENNAI

History repeats:  Following MGR’s death, the party split into two: one led by V.N. Janaki and the other by Jayalalithaa.

History repeats: Following MGR’s death, the party split into two: one led by V.N. Janaki and the other by Jayalalithaa.

With the Election Commission freezing the ‘two leaves’ symbol of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the focus has now shifted to how the warring factions will come to terms with the changed circumstances, particularly in the context of the byelection to the R.K. Nagar constituency. However, the present tussle in the AIADMK over the party symbol has brought back memories of the piquant situation the party faced in 1988 over the same issue.

Just as there are two factions now, the AIADMK was then divided into two groups, one led by Janaki Ramachandran, widow of the AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran, and another by Jayalalithaa, then, the party’s propaganda secretary.

At that time, the battle went on for nine months and it was a month before the Assembly elections in January 1989 that the Election Commission (EC) decided to freeze the symbol. While the Janaki faction was given the symbol of ‘a pair of pigeons’, Jayalalithaa’s group got the ‘cock’ symbol.

AIADMK (Jayalalitha) Symbol 1989

AIADMK (Jayalalitha) Symbol 1989


The fight erupted weeks after the dissolution of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in January 1988 and police sealing the AIADMK headquarters building on Lloyds Road in Royapettah. In mid-March, the Jayalalithaa faction had formally staked its claim for the name and symbol of the party.

The EC’s hearings, which began in June, saw top notch lawyers K.K. Venugopal and Kabil Sibal argue for the Janaki and Jayalalithaa factions, respectively. Incidentally, a few months ago, Mr. Sibal had also represented the Akhilesh Yadav faction in the Commission’s hearings on the symbol issue of the of the Samajwadi Party.

Claims, counter claims

While the Janaki faction had contended that it had the majority support in the party organisation, Parliament and in the Legislative Assembly, the Jayalalithaa faction had countered this point by arguing that documents produced in support of the claim were “mere attendance registers” of General Council meetings and not the original membership registers.

Eventually, on December 17, 1988, the Commission, in an interim order issued by the then Chief Election Commissioner R.V. S. Peri Sastry, froze the ‘two leaves’ symbol and assigned two new symbols for the two factions.

The EC’s decision came after the rival groups rejected an offer from Mr. Sastry to have a free symbol each along with a miniature form of ‘two leaves.’

In the January 1989 Assembly elections, the Jayalalithaa faction, contesting on the ‘cock’ symbol, secured 27 seats and emerged as the principal opposition party. The Janaki faction, fighting on the symbol of ‘a pair of pigeons,’ won a single seat.

When the two factions, in February 1989, buried their differences and merged, the EC had promptly restored to it the ‘two leaves’ symbol. A month later when elections to the Madurai East and Marungapuri assembly seats took place, the AIADMK, now armed with its original symbol, bagged the seats hands down.

In 1991, groups led by former Speaker P.H. Pandian and former Minister S. Thirunavukkarasar (now president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee) had also sought the ‘two leaves’ symbol. But, the Commission flatly dismissed their claims.

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