Did the posts of Coordinator and Joint Coordinator of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) lapse on June 23 or not is the primary question around which a battery of senior counsel representing Edappadi K. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam advanced their arguments on Thursday before a Division Bench reserved its verdict on appeals preferred against a single judge’s August 17 order to maintain status quo ante in the party as on June 23.
Justices M. Duraiswamy and Sunder Mohan heard the day-long arguments advanced by senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, C. Aryama Sundaram and Vijay Narayan for the appellant Mr. Palaniswami and senior counsel Guru Krishnakumar and P.H. Arvindh Pandian for Mr. Panneerselvam. Advocate A.K. Sriram, representing another litigant ‘Amman’ Vairamuthu, alias P. Vairamuthu, who supported the case of Mr. Panneerselvam, also argued the matter.
Justice G. Jayachandran on August 17 allowed the interim applications by Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Vairamuthu, and nullified the July 11 general council meet in which Mr. Palaniswami was elected interim general secretary of the party and Mr. Panneerselvam was expelled from primary membership. Assailing the order, Mr. Vaidyanathan said the notice for the July 11 meet was issued on June 23 and it was reported widely in the media.
Therefore, the single judge was wrong in holding that the notice was issued only on July 1, he said and contended that the judge had mistaken an invitation issued by the party headquarters to be the notice. He also took strong exception to the single judge having given a finding that Mr. Palaniswami had “interpolated” a requisition given by 2,190 of the 2,665 general council members to convene the July 11 meet. He said not a single signatory had raised any complaint.
Further, referring to the single judge’s status quo ante order and that no general council or executive council meet in the future could be held without the joint consent of the Coordinator and Joint Coordinator, Mr. Vaidyanathan said such orders were beyond the relief sought by the plaintiffs, who only wanted to stall the July 11 general council meet. He said the directions given by the judge had created complete disruption in the functioning of the party.
On his part, Mr. Sundaram said the single judge had created many errors and the fundamental among them was to have treated a political party like a body corporate. He said the entire approach of the judge had been to apply the principles of company law to a political party, governed by its own bylaws. He found fault with the judge for having questioned whether the decisions taken by the general council on July 11 truly reflected the wish of 1.5 crore primary members of the party.
Contending that the party bylaws stated that the general council shall be the supreme body, he said: “That is the only way a political party can function. For every decision, the political party cannot go to the primary members. As per its bylaws, the decision of the general council is final and binding on all members of the party. This (single judge’s) judgement suffers from basic error in approach. On what basis can the judgement say that the primary members should have taken the decisions?”
He also argued that the judgement had ignored relevant criteria and, therefore, it was perverse. “If the learned single judge had not considered these bylaws, then the relevant material has not been considered and therefore the judgement has to be set aside,” he said. On the single judge’s finding that a 15-day notice had not been issued for the July 11 meet, the senior counsel said, lack of notice was not the grievance of anyone and there was no requirement of a written notice under the bylaws.
He wondered how the single judge could have ordered status quo ante as on June 23 when the plaintiff’s grievance was only related to the July 11 meet. “At best, the status quo could have been ordered only as on July 11,” he said. Countering the arguments, Mr. Krishnakumar said his client had filed the suit on July 5 and Justice Krishnan Ramasamy of the High Court refused to stall the July 11 meet by passing orders 15 minutes before the meet began that day.
Thereafter, the matter was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court and got remanded for a fresh hearing. By that time, the July 11 general council meet had already taken place and that was the reason why Justice Jayachandran ordered status quo ante as on June 23. The judge was of the firm view that the posts of Coordinator and Joint Coordinator had not lapsed and therefore, he consciously used the term ‘ante’ and set the clock back to the position as on June 22, he said.
Referring to Mr. Palaniswami’s argument that Coordinator and Joint Coordinator were elected in December 2021 on the basis of amendments made to bylaws by the executive council and that the bylaws ought to have been ratified at the June 23 general council meet, the senior counsel read out the draft resolutions of the June 23 meet and said there was no resolution related to ratification. The first draft resolution was limited to taking their election on record and appreciating them.
“So this argument of lapse because of non ratification on June 23 completely goes,” he said. The senior counsel also said, none of the findings given by the single judge could be termed perverse. “AIADMK is a party in which the general secretary is the main functionary. Its founder M.G. Ramachandran had drafted the bylaws in such a way that only the primary members could elect the general secretary. Therefore, the single judge’s references to the primacy of primary members was in this context,” he added.
After completion of arguments by both sides, the judges made it clear that written submissions, if any, should be filed by Friday itself.