Chennai: The Election Commission (EC) allotted new party names and symbols to the two warring factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on Thursday after deciding to freeze the “two leaves” symbol and name of the party, thus signalling a formal split in the party that rules Tamil Nadu.
Both factions—one led by former chief minister O. Panneerselvam and the other by interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala—have claimed that since it’s an interim order for the RK Nagar by-poll on 12 April, they would reclaim the original name and symbol after the by-election.
While the faction led by Panneerselvam was granted the name AIADMK Puratchi Thalavi Amma with the electric pole as its symbol, the team under Sasikala will go by the name of AIADMK Amma with the hat for a symbol.
The Panneerselvam faction is fielding veteran E. Madhusudhanan as its candidate, while Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V Dinakaran is the man standing from her camp.
The EC ruled in an interim order on Wednesday that neither group can use the original name and symbol, but said the decision is “purely for the purposes of the current by-election” in RK Nagar assembly constituency.
RK Nagar, represented by chief minister J. Jayalalithaa until her death on 5 December, is seen as a prestigious assembly seat. According to Gnani Sankaran, Tamil writer and a senior journalist, winning here could even play a role in deciding the future of the AIADMK.
“After the symbol freeze, the disadvantage is for both the factions and it becomes a level-playing field,” said Sankaran. “It is a life or death situation for the two factions of the AIADMK and (opposition) Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) will not lose anything out of this by-election,” he added.
With no single leader at the vanguard, the vacuum at the helm of the AIADMK is discernible, similar to what the party had witnessed after the death of its founder M.G. Ramachandran. And some analysts think that the freeze on the “two leaves” symbol could even help the DMK in the by-election, citing history.
The AIADMK went through a similar phase 27 years ago, when the symbol was frozen following a factional feud after the founder M.G. Ramachandran’s (MGR) death in December 1987. The party had split into two camps—one under MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran and the other under Jayalalithaa.
The fight went on for months. Janaki was sworn in as chief minister and held the office for 22 days, but pandemonium broke out during the trust vote, prompting the Centre to impose President’s Rule.
Just before assembly elections, the EC froze the “two leaves” symbol. While the Jayalalithaa camp got a cock as its symbol, the Janaki faction was given the symbol of a pair of pigeons.
Eventually, it was the DMK that won the assembly elections in January 1989—only to be dismissed by the Centre in January 1991 for its alleged links with the Sri Lankan Tamil militants.
After losing the elections, Janaki announced that she would quit politics, thus clearing the way for Jayalalithaa to stake her claim over the AIADMK and MGR’s legacy