For the masses in Tamil Nadu’s vast rural stretches, a victory sign or a hand held high with fingers splayed, or the palm are signs they are acquainted with, symbols they have grown up with. Over the years, little has changed. The two leaves of the AIADMK or the DMK’s rising sun remain familiar to them, like a fond member of the family. In TN’s hinterland, while campaigns of leaders captivate voters, what they showcase with pride are the big, colourful splashes of the symbols on the mud walls of their thatched huts. But every time a party goes through an upheaval or a split, its symbol is the first to be pushed to the guillotine.
In TN, a leadership tussle in the AIADMK has escalated into a symbol crisis. The faction led by Edappadi K Palaniswami, who is the AIADMK’s ‘interim general secretary’ maintains that the party’s July 11 general council meeting expelled ‘coordinator’ O Panneerselvam from the party. The OPS camp insists that EPS chose to resign from his post of ‘joint coordinator’. Both leaders were elected to the posts by an amendment of the party’s bylaws in 2021, after the AIADMK lost the assembly election.
The EC has not acknowledged their stated positions. Instead, in its records, as far as the AIADMK as a political party is concerned, there are two signatories required for an AIADMK candidate to contest an election, OPS as coordinator and EPS as joint coordinator are both ‘authorised’ to get the two leaves symbol. OPS claims as he is the AIADMK ‘coordinator’ the symbol should be allotted to him. The EPS faction points out that the symbol should be theirs as it is the larger legislative party with more general council members backing them. So, who will get the AIADMK symbol?
The crisis has been precipitated by the announcement of the February 27 Erode East assembly by-poll in TN. And, for the leaders, the support of ally BJP would be crucial. “People identify a party with its symbol,” says former chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi, who served as CEC between 2015 and 2017 when the AIADMK had split for a second time. “There have always been exceptional circumstances when there is a division. If there is a popular leader then the symbol may not matter so much. But if there is no tall leader, then the symbol holds centrestage.” DMK leader and spokesman T K S Elangovan recalled that in its early years, the DMK (founded in 1949), contested elections with several symbols, including the rooster, before it chose the rising sun.
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