But the top court has asked the ECI to consider granting a common free symbol to AMMK, bringing relief to the group
The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the T.T.V. Dhinakaran group had no exclusive access to the ‘pressure cooker’ symbol, but directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to allot any one common/free symbol to the group’s candidates.
The candidates from Mr. Dhinakaran’s group, the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), are contesting in a total of 40 parliamentary and 19 Assembly constituencies of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in the forthcoming by-polls and Lok Sabha elections.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi ensured a “level playing field” for Mr. Dhinakaran by ordering the ECI to, after due process and satisfaction, allot any one of the 198 common symbols.
“The (Dhinakaran) group considered itself heir to AIADMK. They missed the bus. But they are still a group. Reality is, however strong a man, he is known by the symbol. Giving different symbols to his candidates will ruin his career,” Chief Justice Gogoi orally observed.
“Not judicial recognition”
The decision brings partial relief to the Dhinakaran group, who would otherwise have been cast into political wilderness. Tuesday is the last date for filing nominations for the second phase of the General elections with polling commencing on April 18.
Nevertheless, the court made it clear that the order should not in any manner be interpreted as a judicial recognition of Mr. Dhinakaran’s group, which has neither been registered or recognised as a political party under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951.
This restraint was even more palpable when the court ordered that if any of the candidates in the Dhinkaran group was elected, he or she would be considered an independent for “all purposes” rather than the member of a group.
This means that the victorious candidates from the group are not subject to any whip and can chose their own side.
“The order of ours will not amount to the recognition of the group as a political party, registered or unregistered. The ECI alone will take this decision (to recognise a group as a political party),” the apex court clarified.
The hearing, which spanned over two hours, saw extensive arguments led on the point of the Dhinakaran group’s claim to the pressure cooker symbol.
“The claim of the petitioner (Dhinakaran) to the common symbol of pressure cooker in an exclusive manner cannot be accepted or acknowledged,” the court held at the end.
The court highlighted that the group had never applied for registration as a political party under Section 29A of the RP Act or the guidelines of the ECI.
The court said it was not “inclined to give any recognition” to the Dhinakaran group as a political party which should be allotted the common symbol of pressure cooker.
“This anarchy you have brought upon yourself. You should have applied on March 15 when we refused your SLP. You could have applied u/s 29A yesterday. Why do you think we adjourned the case yesterday?” the CJI remarked to the Dhinakaran side.
The CJI went on to chastise the Dhinakaran side, saying, “How do we overlook the mandate of Section 29A? Without prejudice to your rights, you should have registered”.
At one point, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi countered that “if we had registered as a political party, it would have be akin to giving up our claim over two-leaves symbol. The rival group is getting a walkover now”.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, also for Mr. Dhinakaran, said the ECI should ensure a level playing field in the build-up to free and fair elections, which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
To this, the CJI turned to the ECI and asked, “Can you allot any one of the free common symbols to all the candidates of Dhinakaran group on the last date of withdrawal?”
But the rival O. Panneerselvam-E. Palaniswami faction, which was recognised as the true heir of the original AIADMK party and successor to the two-leaves symbol, strongly objected to Mr. Dhinakaran’s claims as “useless”.
“Law only recognises a registered party or a national or State party which is recognised, not an amorphous or loose front like this. If the party is not registered or recognised under Section 29A and the base is not there, how can you seek a common symbol now?” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi countered.
Mr. Rohatgi portrayed Mr. Dhinakaran as a “man who says he will not register” his group. “He says I will not comply with Section 29A… Now he wants the pressure cooker symbol,” he contended.
Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan said Mr. Dhinakaran was merely trying to upset the applecart and act as a disruptor.
Senior advocate Guru Krishnakumar submitted that Mr. Dhinakaran’s demand for pressure cooker was actually a well-disguised plea for a reserved symbol.