It almost like the Shiv Sena and AIADMK are facing a midlife crisis. Both regional parties have crossed 50 years of existence and are facing vertical splits with rival factions fighting for the name, both literally and symbolically.
Eknath Shinde, the Shiv Sena rebel who led the Maharashtra coup against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, is preparing to claim the party’s ‘bow and arrow’ election symbol. The Shinde camp calls itself true Shiv Sainiks and followers of Balasaheb Thackeray’s Hindutva.
Top on the agenda of the breakaway Shinde faction is to ensure that they have the numbers on their side in the Assembly and that they do not attract the anti-defection law. Next comes the question of who is the real Shiv Sena.
Mumbai-based political analyst Sanjay Jog says there are two major points to consider. First, the majority in the state legislature has been questioned. Second, how the Election Commission has ruled so far on disputes involving the poll symbol.
“The fight for the symbol will come later. Right now, the Shinde camp is busy showing that they are the ‘real Shiv Sena’ and that they have the support of 39 legislators who were elected on the party symbol. As they have crossed two-third mark of 55 (Shiv Sena strength in Assembly), they argue they will not face action under the anti-defection law.”
They are claiming that they will not attract any action under the anti-defection law as they have more than two-thirds majority (among the party’s legislature wing),” Jog said.
“After trust vote and also crossing the legislative and legal hurdles, they will try to take up the issue of the symbol with the Election Commission. For this, they require the support mentioned in the EC rules and norms which is based on their region-wise branches, district karyakarnis, and executives. This will be countered by Shiv Sena of course,” he added. “But if they are qualified by the Deputy Speaker and upheld by the apex court, then the whole story will change.”
So which faction gets to keep the symbol? Several analysts that News18 spoke to say having mere numbers on his side does not ensure that Eknath Shinde will get to keep the party symbol or its name.
“The ‘real Shiv Sena’ will have to have majority support from all office-bearers in the party, legislators, and Members of Parliament. Just having a large number of MLAs on one’s side is not enough for it to be recognized as the party,” explained a senior party leader who did not wish to be named.
As per the anti-defection law, if the Shiv Sena suffers a vertical split, with the Shinde faction having MLA strength on their side, the new faction will not be immediately recognized as a new political party until they merge with another party. The final decision lies with the EC which decides which faction gets the symbol after gauging the support each faction enjoys both within the party’s organization and its legislature wing.
The ‘bow and arrow’ isn’t the only symbol the EC will have to rule on. Around 1,400 km from Mumbai, another tug-of-war is brewing with E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam slugging it out for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK) reins.
In Tamil Nadu, the core issue is the majority demand to do away with the dual leadership of O Panneerselvam (OPS) as the coordinator and Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) as the joint coordinator. This compromise was arrived at between the leaders after the AIADMK saw much turmoil following the death of the party supremo J Jayalalithaa in 2016.
The tussle in the AIADMK is also about who will lead the party under a single leadership and who the true AIADMK or Amma’s choice leader would be EPS or OPS.
“It is the general council that decides and is the supremo of the party in the absence of a General Secretary,” said a senior functionary of the AIADMK.
“The creation of the posts of joint coordinators is temporary in the absence of the General Secretary for the party. The powers of the GS have been divested to these two coordinators. However, it is the GC that will decide finally which way the wind blows. If the GS (Jayalalithaa) were alive, the decision of the GS would have been final. In the history of the party, never has a decision placed by the GS been overruled by the General Council, ” the leader added.
“There are already around 2,500 odd members who have given their written support to EPS as their leader for the party. Another 145 are missing as they may be busy or have personal commitments. Even if OPS approaches the EC, the only point that the EC will look for is who has two-thirds majority of the office-bearers of the party. This is also what happened between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh,” the leader explained.
Interestingly, the power tussle for the ‘two leaves’ election symbol of the AIADMK was last seen in 2017 between rival factions led by Jayalalithaa’s confidant VK Sasikala and OPS. Both staked claim to the AIADMK’s ‘Erattai Illai’ (two leaves) symbol, claiming to be the rightful loyalists.
As the fight snowballed, the EC froze the symbol and the subsequent 2017 RK Nagar bypolls were fought under two new party names and symbols. The faction led by Panneerselvam was granted ‘electric pole’ as its election symbol and named the AIADMK Puratchi Thalavi Amma. Team Sasikala decided to go with the name AIADMK Amma and was allotted the ‘hat’ for a symbol.
The ‘two leaves’ symbol has been the subject of rival claims in the past as well. In 1991, it was claimed by two factions, one led by former Assembly Speaker PH Pandian, a staunch AIADMK follower, and another by Thirunavukkarasar, a former minister in the MG Ramachandran cabinet and now Congress leader. Both approached the EC for the symbol, but were flatly dismissed.
The most intense fight for the AIADMK symbol was witnessed in 1987, with MGR’s wife Janaki on one side and his protégé J Jayalalithaa on the other. After MGR’s death, Janaki and Jayalalithaa landed on EC’s doorstep, claiming the right to the symbol. The EC at the time took a stand and didn’t recognize either as the “true successor” of the party. It allotted both separate electoral symbols as Tamil Nadu went to polls.
Janaki’s faction was given the ‘two doves’ symbol, while Jayalalithaa was allotted the ‘crowing cock’ symbol. Then came a twist in the tale. Janaki’s camp faced a rout in the elections and won just two seats, while Jayalalithaa won 27. Following the defeat, Janaki retired from politics, and the party was unified under Jayalalithaa. The EC restored the ‘two leaves’ symbol to her party which was now called AIADMK.
With two separate battles for party symbols playing out in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission’s decision and decision-making rationale will be keenly watched.
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