New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved its order on an interim plea by V K Sasikala-T T V Dhinakaran group of AIADMK for using the ‘hat’ symbol in the upcoming R K Nagar constituency by-poll. Justice Indermeet Kaur heard arguments on behalf of the Sasikala-Dhinakaran group, the poll panel and the faction of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam and said it will pass an order at 4pm today.
The court also issued notice to the Election Commission of India, O Panneerselvam, Tamil Nadu CM E Palaniswami seeking their replies to Sasikala and Dhinakaran’s pleas challenging the poll panel’s November 23 order allotting the ‘two-leaves’ symbol to the Panneerselvam-Palaniswami faction. The court sought the response of Madhusudhanan, AIADMK’s candidate for the R K Nagar by-poll and MLA Semmalai, who are also respondents in the pleas by Sasikala and Dhinakaran. The main petition will be heard on February 12, the court said.
During the arguments, the poll panel, Palaniswami, Panneerselvam and others opposed grant of ‘hat’ symbol to Sasikala-Dhinakaran group by the court, saying the Returning Officer (RO) alone has the power to do so. They said if the Sasikala-Dhinakaran group do not get ‘hat’ symbol, then some other free symbol would be granted to them by the RO.
The court, however, did not appear to agree with the contentions, saying the RO being subordinate to the poll panel, he will not go against the EC’s November 23 order by which the grant of ‘hat’ symbol to Sasikala-Dhinakaran group was set aside. It expressed the view that if the ‘hat’ symbol was not granted to the Sasikala-Dhinakaran group, then the other side may “win by default”.
“Elections have to be free and fair. You (Panneerselvam-Palaniswami) should not get a vote by default,” the court said. The hat symbol was given to the Sasikala-Dhinakaran group by the EC in March this year when it had frozen the use of the ‘two-leaves’ symbol to which the group led by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam had also laid claim.
The Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction had at the same time been granted the electric pole symbol. However, on November 23 the poll panel ruled in favour of Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction by allotting the ‘two-leaves’ symbol to them for the upcoming by-poll which is to be held on December 21.
The Palaniswami-Panneerselvam group and the poll panel argued that ‘hat’ was a free symbol and cannot be reserved for an individual or independent candidate. EC told the court that after its November 23 order, Sasikala and Dhinakaran are not part of any group but are independent candidates.
The Sasikala-Dhinakaran group, on the other hand, claimed that in March this year, they were allotted the ‘hat’ symbol by the EC and since then they have been campaigning under it. They said that not granting the ‘hat’ symbol would prejudice their chances in the by-poll as the people of R K Nagar constituency associate them with the ‘hat’.
Sasikala and Dhinakaran have in their pleas sought quashing of the November 23 order of the EC, alleging that it was bad in law and needed to be set aside. The issue has been lingering since April in the aftermath of the announcement of by-poll to Radha Krishnan Nagar Assembly constituency here following the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa in December last year.
Sasikala and Dhinakaran’s pleas have sought directions for initiating appropriate proceedings against Madhusudhanan, Palaniswami, Panneerselvam and Semmalai for their acts. They have also sought calling of records and files relating to the dispute over the symbol. “The decision-making process of the ECI is contrary to the settled legal principles. The EC has treated fabricated and untested material as genuine which has resulted in the hearing being unfair and consequently contrary to the principle of natural justice and therefore the proceedings and the order are void,” the pleas have alleged.
The order of the Commission came as a setback to deposed party leader Sasikala, who is currently serving a four-year sentence in a Bengaluru jail in a disproportionate assets case, and her nephew Dhinakaran. Earlier, rival factions led by Sasikala and Panneerselvam had staked claim over the symbol. Palaniswami was then in the Sasikala camp.
Later, a large number of legislators led by Palaniswami revolted against Sasikala and announced the merger of the two factions. The Palaniswami-Panneerselvam camp then submitted affidavits before the EC staking claim over the party name and symbol, which was contested by the Sasikala-Dhinakaran faction.