New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday dashed the hopes of a faction led by former AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran for getting the 'pressure cooker' symbol exclusively for the upcoming Lok Sabha and assembly by-elections, but asked the Election Commission to allot a common free symbol to it.
The top court said to "ensure a level playing field" among the contesting political parties in Lok Sabha polls and by-election in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, it has directed the poll panel to allot a common free symbol to the group.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna also made it clear that if candidates fielded by Dhinakaran-led group win the elections, "they will be treated as independent candidates".
"The claim of the appellant to the symbol of 'pressure cooker' in an exclusive manner cannot be acknowledged in view of the provisions of Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India thereunder, which the appellant or his group has concededly not followed.
"We are, therefore, not inclined to grant any recognition to the appellant or his group to the symbol of 'pressure cooker'," the bench said.
It took on record the list of names of 59 candidates, marked as 'X', to be fielded by Dhinakaran led group in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and assembly by-elections in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
"The EC on due and proper satisfaction that the candidates named in the document marked with the letter 'X' (list of names) want to contest the election under any one common symbol, will make all endeavour to ensure that in the forthcoming elections..., the aforesaid candidates be allotted any one particular free symbol," the bench said.
The court, clarified, that its present order will not amount to recognition of the group or its any part as a political party whether "registered" or "unregistered" and only election commission can take a decision in that regard as and when required.
It further said, "We also make it clear that in the event any of the candidates mentioned in the list marked with the letter X' is to be elected, such candidate will be counted as an independent candidate and not belonging to any political party for all purposes including for the purposes of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution".
The court's order came on the last day of filing of nomination papers for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 40 seats and assembly by-elections on 19 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to be held on April 18.
At the outset, the bench asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Dhinakaran, as how it can allot common symbol of 'pressure cooker' to the group, which is not recognised or registered by the election commission.
Sibal said that to provide level playing field for the parties, the EC has power to provide a common symbol to a group.
The bench said that fact of the matter is that the two-leaves symbol issue is now over and the Dhinakaran led group has not applied to election commission for registration as a political party.
"You were allotted pressure cooker symbol as an interim arrangement till the pendency of the case before the high court. Now that high court has given its verdict that interim arrangement is over. As an individual you can be given pressure cooker symbol but as a group you cannot be given," it said.
Sibal contended that it takes months for registration of political party and if the court passes an order for a common symbol then they will apply to the EC today itself.
The bench told Sibal, "You can request EC to allot a common free symbol but don't ask us to pass an order contrary to section 29A of the RP Act. Your time is over. Your claim for pressure cooker was an interim arrangement. You brought this anarchy upon yourself."
Sibal, along with senior advocate Abhishek M Singvi, then said if a common symbol is not given then 59 candidates of Dhinakaran led group will contest on 59 different symbols.
Sibal and Singhvi then argued that they are not insisting on the pressure cooker symbol but court can allot any available common symbol of its choice.
The bench, the asked the counsel for EC as by when do the poll panel allots the symbol to a candidate or party.
Advocate Amit Sharma, appearing for EC, said candidates are allotted the symbol after the last date of withdrawal of nominations.
However, the bench said, "He (Dhinakaran) has to suffer because he cannot carry out the campaign without a symbol. He has missed the bus but for a free and fair election, they should be given a common symbol as a group. Reality is however strong a man, he is known by the symbol. Giving different symbols to his candidates will ruin their career."
Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and K V Vishwanathan, appearing for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E K Palaniswami and others opposed grant of common symbol to Dhinakaran led group.
Dhinakaran had floated Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) after he and V K Sasikala were expelled from the Palaniswami-led AIADMK.
On March 15, the apex court had agreed to hear a plea of Dhinakaran challenging a Delhi High Court order granting the 'two leaves' symbol to the AIADMK faction led by TN CM E K Palaniswami on the limited aspect of allowing use of 'pressure cooker' as a common symbol.
On February 28, the high court had dismissed the pleas of Dhinakaran and Sasikala challenging the EC order granting 'AIADMK' name and 'two leaves' symbol to Palaniswami-led faction.