With political parties in Tamil Nadu gearing up for the upcoming assembly elections in May, a central theme in their preliminary election preparation is the assertion of poll and party symbols.
The bigger parties want their allies to contest on popular symbols to ensure they get maximum votes. The smaller parties want to contest on their own symbols since they are looking for recognition.
However, there’s more: a rift has erupted between the OPS and EPS factions within the AIADMK. Both the leaders have an equal say in deciding which candidates can contest on the prominent ‘two-leaves’ symbol. In case of a split in the party, the Election Commission would likely freeze the symbol.
THE UNCERTAIN FATE OF THE ‘TWO-LEAVES’
The rift between the two camps in the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has come about due to seat-sharing arrangements. As early as October last year the AIADMK had announced Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) as its candidate for the post of Chief Minister.
The decision was announced by the deputy Chief Minister and party coordinator, O. Panneerselvam (OPS), at the party headquarters in Chennai. What then appeared to be a ‘patch-up’ between the OPS and EPS factions has come to the boil again. The friction was evident when OPS supporters released a two-page advertisement in a Tamil daily hailing Panneerselvam as the “only political heir of Jayalalithaa” on January 1.
Will the ‘two-leaves’ symbol continue to hold the factions together?
A candidate can contest under the ‘two-leaves’ symbol only if both OPS and EPS endorse them. According to a piece in The Times of India: “When it comes to allotment of the party symbol to the candidates, both OPS and EPS will have to sign the 'Form B' for each candidate to be submitted before the returning officer. Unless there is consensus between the two, the candidates will not be eligible for the 'two-leaves' symbol.” Given that the right over the symbol is equally shared between the two leaders, a split in the party would likely lead to the EC freezing the symbol. If that happens, both OPS and EPS would lose out on a major chunk of votes.
Senior AIADMK leader and law minister, C.V. Shanmugam, already hinted at a conspiracy to freeze the party’s ‘two leaves’ symbol last week.
The BJP seems to be furthering the rift in the AIADMK. While it has limited political strength in the state and is only a small part of the AIADMK-BJP-PMK-TMC alliance, it has declared that the front’s CM candidate will be decided by the NDA, of which BJP is the largest party. By not accepting Palaniswami as its CM candidate the BJP is strengthening Panneerselvam’s faction. The saffron party is tightening its grip over the weak leadership of the AIADMK, with its results yet to be seen.
The question that arises is whether Shanmugam’s statement about a conspiracy to freeze the party symbol a reference to the BJP? Given the party’s limited political might and exaggerated antics, it seems to be a possibility.
It should be noted that a considerable chunk of the AIADMK is unhappy with the BJP alliance. It is seen as a threat to the culture of Tamil Nadu. There has been speculation that the BJP’s dominance will lead to a shift in cadre from the AIADMK to Sasikala-Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). The late CM J. Jayalalithaa’s aide V.K. Sasikala’s release from jail in mid-January may facilitate such a drift.
After Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2016 – when the three major camps were fighting for the party’s symbol, name and legacy – the Sasikala-Dinakaran front went all the way to the Supreme Court to lay its claim. It has been claimed that the duo has been plotting to freeze the symbol. However, T.T.V. Dinakaran has expressed his satisfaction with the ‘cooker’ symbol for the upcoming elections, calling it a lucky symbol blessed by ‘Amma’. He had won the tightly contested Dr. Radhakridhnan Nagar – Jayalalithaa’s constituency at the time of her death – with this symbol in the 2017 bye-election.
The ‘two-leaves’ symbol carries the legacy of former CMs M.G. Ramachandran and J.Jayalalithaa. Candidates have won elections solely on the popularity of the symbol. The AIADMK is attempting to convince its allies to contest on this popular symbol, aside from other desperate measures as its tenure comes to an end. However, the BJP, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) are demanding greater representation within the alliance; they want more seats and also want to fight on a symbol of their choice.
ALLIANCE PARTIES SHUN DMK’S ‘RISING SUN’ SYMBOL
The scenario of smaller allies wanting to contest under their own symbols has come to pass within the Democratic Progressive Alliance as well. Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) chiefs Thol. Thirumavalavan and Vaiko have said that their party candidates would not contest on the DMK’s ‘rising sun’ symbol.
Contesting on a popular symbol has its advantages; all parties wish to contest on their own symbols for recognition from the Election Commission. While these parties are ready to contest parliamentary elections on popular symbols to defeat the BJP-led NDA, they wish to secure their vote-share in state election.
Rejecting the argument that new symbols would not draw the attention of voters, CPI (M) State secretariat member K. Kanagaraj pointed to the 1996 elections and said: “G.K. Moopanar had launched the Tamil Maanila Congress at the eleventh hour, and it was allotted the bicycle symbol. Still his party swept the election”.
KAMAL HAASAN’S PARTY MOVES COURT FOR TORCH LIGHT SYMBOL
Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has moved the Madras High Court for the allotment of the 'torch light' as the election symbol for all the 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu and 30 constituencies in the Union Territory of Puduhucherry. MNM was allotted the 'torch light' as a common symbol during the 2019 parliamentary elections but it was only allotted the symbol in Puducherry for the 2021 state polls.
Too many changes in election symbols reduces the votes garnered by parties. However, only parties recognised as National and State parties have relatively fixed election symbols. Unrecognised parties, i.e. parties which have a vote share below six percent in the state and less than two assembly seats have little say in these matters.