By overruling a single judge’s impractical prescription for a working relationship between estranged leaders Edappadi K. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court has momentarily removed the “functional deadlock” in the AIADMK. Justices M. Duraiswamy and Sunder Mohan, allowing an appeal from Mr. Palaniswami, set aside the verdict ordering status quo ante as of June 23, when dual leadership prevailed. The judges have rightly elucidated that with the impossibility of a truce, a situation has arisen where the party, as a whole, will undergo irreparable hardship if the two leaders are mandated to jointly manage the party affairs. The court has justifiably underscored the supremacy of the general council, whose members are elected by the primary members, in determining the party leadership structure and ratifying any changes made to it by the executive council. This effectively validates Mr. Palaniswami’s election as interim general secretary at the July 11 special general council meeting, convened on the request of most of its members. The judges, interestingly, have drawn parallels with the developments in the AIADMK five years ago when its jailed interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala was replaced by the Panneerselvam-Palaniswami duo, to validate the current abolition of the dual leadership structure. It has held that the convening of the special general council by the presidium chairman cannot be termed illegal since the coordinator and joint coordinator are at loggerheads. Loopholes in the party’s bye-laws, which do not contemplate written notice for convening general council meetings or mandate notice for holding special general council meetings requisitioned by at least one-fifth of its members, too worked in favour of Mr. Palaniswami.
The court, curiously, has left open the question of whether the dual posts lapsed due to non-ratification by the general council. With Mr. Panneerselvam determined to challenge the order in the Supreme Court, the legal see-saw battle is not over. It is beyond doubt the internal political balance of convenience is with Mr. Palaniswami. Except for one legislator, none of the 2,539 of the 2,665 members of the party general council, who filed affidavits before the Election Commission of India in his support, has switched loyalties since accepting his leadership. Whereas, Mr. Panneerselvam has been repeatedly relying on the legal fine print to restore his position as a partner with shared managing powers in the AIADMK. Instead of fortifying his base and providing the necessary political challenge to Mr. Palaniswami, he has had no qualms in soliciting those sidelined or expelled from the AIADMK, decisions to which he was a signatory. There is no doubt that the ongoing battle has disrupted the party’s focus and functioning. It is critical for the party, which will complete its 50th year next month, that the leadership question is settled quickly.