The ‘Two Leaves’ election symbol of the AIADMK founded by MG Ramachandran and inherited by J Jayalalitha has been allotted to an entity called ‘AIADMK (APTA)’ formed by the ‘shotgun’ merger of two AIADMK factions, one led by O Panneerselvam called the AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) and the other called AIADMK (Amma) led by Edappadi Palaniswami. The merger was brought about by the BJP and christened AIADMK (Amma Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) by the Election Commission, leaving the AIADMK controlled by VK Sasikala high and dry.

Although acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao swore in Panneerselvam as Chief Minister on 5 December last, the night of Jayalalitha’s death, the general council of the AIADMK, including Panneerselvam and Palaniswamy, unanimously passed a resolution requesting Sasikala, alter ego of Jayalalitha, to take over as general secretary of the AIADMK and lead the party and the government as, in their opinion, she alone could fill the void left behind by Jayalalitha.

Pannerselvam, who had the support of only 11 MLAs, promptly resigned as Chief Minister to facilitate Sasikala’s takeover. Her conviction and jail term in Jayalalitha’s wealth case came in the way of her becoming the Chief Minister. She chose Palaniswami to take her place in Fort St George and her nephew TTV Dinakaran was anointed deputy general secretary of the AIADMK.

The Election Commission said in its order that it was allotting the Two Leaves symbol to the group led by E Madhusudhan which in fact is the AIADMK (PTA) having just 11 MLAs. Legally, all these 11 MLAs should have been disqualified for defying the whip for voting against the Palaniswamy government in a confidence motion.

The merger of the OPS-EPS groups never gelled and this fact was admitted publicly by the OPS group. The EC’s claim that its order was based on the time-tested Sadiq Ali case of 1972 in which the Supreme Court ruled that the party’s name and symbol should be allotted to those who command majority among elected representatives and party forums is a travesty of truth.

It was Sasikala’s men who kept about 120 of the MLAs in beach resorts outside Chennai for three weeks and took them straight to the Assembly to help Palaniswami, her nominee, win a vote of confidence. That Palaniswamy turned a turncoat after winning the trust vote is a different story. The BJP is comfortable with this arrangement.

“Having considered the submissions of the learned senior counsel of both groups, the Commission is of the view that the present dispute has to be decided on the touchstone of numerical superiority between the rival groups in the organisational and legislature wings of the party,” says the EC order. The coming RK Nagar by-election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly will be an acid test for the unhinged EPS-OPS group to prove its mettle.