Supreme Court: In a triumph for Edappadi Palaniswami (‘EPS’), the division bench of Dinesh Maheshwari* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ, exercising their appellate jurisdiction, affirmed the Madras High Court order allowing him to continue as the interim general secretary of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagan (‘AIADMK’).

The Court also made its interim order dated 06-07-2022 absolute, staying the Madras High Court order dated 23-06-2022, which restrained AIADMK General Council from passing any resolution.

Factual Matrix

In the matter at hand, the issue relates to the internal management of the political party, AIADMK wherein the party byelaws saw a few amendments in 2016 which brought in a system of joint leadership by way of a coordinator and joint coordinator. In December 2021, EPS and O. Panneerselvam (‘OPS’) jointly contested for the post of coordinator and joint coordinator who were unopposed and unanimously elected. However, due to divergent views of different factions within the party, it led to civil suits with different orders at different stages by the Madras High Court.

In the scheme of the byelaws as originally framed, the topmost position in the party was assigned to its General Secretary but after the demise of Dr. J. Jayalalitha, General Secretary in 2016, the party drifted into a state of uncertainty as regards leadership.

A notice was issued for convening a General Council meeting on 23-06-2022 without an agenda indicating towards an issue simmering pertaining to adopting the old single leadership system which culminated into the present litigation after OPS issued a letter requesting for adjournment of the said meeting which was rejected.

Consequently, multiple suits seeking prohibitory injunction and temporary injunction were filed to restrain defendants from placing agenda in the said meetings.

Legal Trajectory

The single judge of the High Court had previously declined to grant any injunction against the meeting of the General Council scheduled to be held on 23-06-2022 with the settled principle of law that in matter of internal issues of a party, the Courts should not interfere, while leaving it open to the party and its members to pass the necessary resolutions and to frame a particular byelaw, rule or regulation for better administration of the party.

The same was challenged before the division bench of the High Court, which even though allowed the scheduled meeting of the General Council, however, placed fetters on the scope of taking decisions on certain topics.

Despite heavy opposition and petitions filed for the stay of the next General Council meeting scheduled to be held on 11-07-2022, the same was allowed by the single judge of the High Court to be conducted but with certain restrictions inter alia that status quo ante should be maintained with an impediment on conducting Executive Council or General Council meetings without the consent of the coordinator and joint coordinator.

The said order was challenged in intra-court appeals which was allowed and set aside by the division bench of the High Court.

OPS challenged the notice for the 11-07-2022 meeting on two premise

A) For its legality and validity since the power to convene such meetings was with the coordinator and joint coordinator acting jointly.

B) The notice was sent 10 days prior to the meeting as against the minimum requirement of 15 days, which was in violation of the party byelaws.

Issue for consideration

Grant of temporary injunction in the civil suits concerning the affairs of the political party and the disputes inter se the members and the factions within the party.

Court Analysis

The bench was of the view that the said fallacious reasoning accepted by the single judge of the High Court that the convening of the meeting dated 11-07-2022 suffered from illegality since it was neither convened by an authorised person, nor 15 days’ notice was given, could not be accepted. While considering the prayer for interim relief, the Court dealing with an internal matter of the party, cannot find technical faults and flaws detached from the substance of the matter.

“As regards technicalities, the Division Bench appears to have rightly analyzed the frame of the said Rule 19(vii), where the requirement of 15 days’ notice is referable to the regular meeting and not as such to a requisitioned or special meeting.” stated the Court.

The bench pointed to the fact that the said meeting was never in dispute and was indeed convened by the coordinator and joint coordinator jointly who had been working in tandem until that stage and the OPS led faction were very much present in the said meeting. However, they fell apart immediately thereafter, when a proposition for amendment of byelaws and reverting to the system of single leadership was in the offing.

The Court while affirming the view of the division bench of the High Court stated that when a functional deadlock comes into existence, steps taken by the requisitioned members cannot be declared as unwarranted, therefore, convening the 11-07-2022 meeting cannot be held as an unauthorized act.

The Court was of the view that the questions of balance of convenience and irreparable injury was not examined in the correct perspective, therefore opined that the single judge had not kept in view the relevant tests, internal management of the political party. The court observed that if the order passed by the single judge was allowed to remain in force until the decision of the suits, it would have been detrimental to the interest of the political party.

The Court opined that the only relevant question before the single judge was about the validity of convening the meeting dated 11-07-2022. However, the single judge appeared to traverse through wide areas, that ultimately the decision came to be based on entirely irrelevant considerations.

The Court stated that the ultimate injunction issued by the single judge had been that of restoring status quo ante as on 23.06.2022 and further to that, directed that the coordinator and joint coordinator should function jointly and would not refuse to convene the General Council meeting and that they could approach the Court for necessary directions for conducting the General Council meeting. Apart from the fact that the injunction as issued by the single judge had been far away and beyond the scope of applications before him, the said injunction could have only perpetuated the functional deadlock in the party. Thus, held that the order passed by the single judge could not have been countenanced from any angle and thus, the division bench had rightly interfered with the same.

With the said observations, the Court dismissed the appeals affirming the order passed by the Madras High Court, allowing EPS to continue as the interim general secretary of AIADMK. The Court also made its interim order dated 06-07-2022 absolute, staying the Madras High Court order dated 23-06-2022, which restrained AIADMK General Council from passing any resolution.

The Court while stating the operative portions, clarified that the Court’s observations relate to the interim orders passed by the High Court, and it shall not have bearing on the suit pending in the High Court in relation to the disputes between OPS and EPS.

The Court left all the other issues open to be decided in the suit and further clarified that it did not deal with the contentions regarding the validity of the general council meeting of 11-07-2022, which is yet to be decided in the suit.

[Thiru K. Palaniswamy v M. Shanmugan, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 177, decided on 23-02-2023]

Judgment authored by Justice Dinesh Maheshwari

Know Thy Judge | Justice Dinesh Maheshwari

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the appellant- Advocate Balaji Srinivasan;

For the respondent- Advocate Goutham Shivshankar, Advocate Pai Amit and Advocate Arunava Mukherjee;

For the impleader- Advocate Anzu K. Varkey and Advocate Akshat Shrivastava.

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