Two is one too many: On AIADMK leadership tussle

Madras High Court relief may not prevent marginalisation of O. Panneerselvam in AIADMK

June 25, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:58 am IST

A pre-dawn court order may have granted temporary relief to AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam from being stripped of his part in the party’s joint leadership, but it is doubtful if his isolation can be prevented for long. It may only be a matter of time before the 50-year-old party comes under the full control of co-cordinator and Mr. Panneerselvam’s partner-turned-rival Edappadi K. Palaniswami. What has divided them now is possibly that Mr. Palaniswami seems to have greater support among legislators and district secretaries, and his camp has begun to feel that Mr. Panneerselvam is enjoying disproportionate clout in the party’s affairs. At a General Council (GC) meeting on Thursday, it was expected that the party’s by-laws would be changed to abolish the current ‘dual leadership’ (coordinators), and restore the post of general secretary as the sole seat of power. An attempt to obtain a restraining order against the meeting failed before a single judge, but the Panneerselvam camp managed to get the Chief Justice’s permission to move a midnight appeal before a Bench. Passing orders at around 4.30 a.m., the Bench restrained the GC from making any decision other than upon the 23 items on the agenda that had the approval of both coordinators. That they had agreed on a set of resolutions was used to make a prima facie case for an interim order against any other decision being made, scuttling plans for an impromptu discussion or decision on the leadership question.

A question arises over the need for the eleventh-hour judicial intervention. Any likely prejudice could always have been subsequently remedied if it truly went against the party majority view. It is doubtful whether a leader can seek a restraint on a majority-backed decision by which he would be possibly aggrieved. Even though a dual leadership system is in place, it is difficult to contend that nothing that lacks the approval of both leaders can be decided by the party’s apex decision-making body. After all, it was this body that abolished the general secretary’s post in 2017 and created the posts of two coordinators. It had also changed the ‘unamendable’ rule that the general secretary should be elected by all the primary members. In 2021, the party’s executive committee again amended the by-laws to the effect that the primary members would now elect the two coordinators jointly by a single vote. Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami were jointly elected in a subsequent election. One of the resolutions ultimately not taken up at the GC meeting was to ratify this decision. The effect of non-ratification on the party’s affairs remains to be seen, but it is clear that Mr. Panneerselvam’s options are limited to either playing a subordinate role or striking it out on his own.

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