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Sasikala may fight EC move on poll symbol

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Chennai:

Expelled All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader VK Sasikala is likely to challenge in the Supreme Court the Election Commission’s 2017 decision of allotting the party name and the iconic two-leaves symbol to sitting Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s party, her lawyer announced on Monday.

At the time, two factions of the AIADMK were fighting for control of the party and the poll watchdog decided in favour of the Palaniswami-led faction. Sasikala was close aide of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa.

“We will file a curative petition soon,” said Sasikala’s lawyer Raja Senthoor Pandian. “We haven’t filed a case so far due to the pandemic and we had expected her to be released by August on remission. So we thought of filing it once she is out. We have to discuss.”

On November 23, 2017, the EC allotted Palaniswami-led faction with the ‘two leaves’ symbol after freezing it briefly when two factions – the other led by current Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam — were vying for it following Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran challenged this decision in the Delhi high court, which upheld the EC order in 2019. The Supreme Court also dismissed two petitions — in March 2019 and in July 2020.

A curative petition is the last legal option in a case, and is usually filed if the petitioners believe that a legal error was committed while deciding a case. It is rare for curative petition to succeed. Tamil Nadu is scheduled to go the polls in April-May.

Sasikala was hospitalised a week before her release from prison in Bengaluru on January 27 after serving a four-year jail term in a disproportionate assets case. On Sunday, she was discharged from the city’s Victoria hospital where she was treated for Covid-19. Sending out her first political message, Sasikala left the hospital in a car bearing the AIADMK flag. She is expected to return to Chennai WHEN after completing week-long quarantine in Bengaluru.

AIADMK, which expelled Sasikala and Dhinakaran on September 12, 2017, have condemned her for using the flag and termed it illegal. Law minister C V Shunmugam warned of legal action against ‘Sasikala or anyone’ who is not a member of the party and ‘misusing the flag’.

But Dinakaran justified her move. Dinakaran, an independent MLA, floated the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) with some of Sasikala’s supporters who want her to unite them by reclaiming the AIADMK. Palaniswami, who is the chief ministerial candidate of the AIADMK-led National Democratic Alliance, has made clear that Sasikala will not be taken back.

Sasikala briefly held the reins of the party after Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016 amidst a power struggle with her loyalist-turned-rebel Paneerselvam. She handpicked Palaniswami as chief minister before surrendering in prison but he later united with Paneerselvam. After ousting her, AIADMK created new posts with Paneerselvam as coordinator and Palaniswami as joint coordinator and Jayalalithaa as the ‘eternal general secretary’.

Sasikala challenged this decision and the matter is pending before the Madras high court. The AIADMK expelled party functionaries who put up posters welcoming Sasikala after her release. “She may gain some supporters but the AIADMK status quo will continue,” says political analyst Ravindran Duraisamy. “The present AIADMK has contested the 2019 parliamentary elections and by-elections on the symbol and name without any hindrance. It’s a settled matter.”

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