"In democracy, a political party cannot be stopped from functioning by sealing its office", observed the Supreme Court Monday as it dismissed the plea of ousted AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam (OPS) against the Madras High Court order directing to hand over the keys of party headquarter to party chief K Palaniswami.
"Allowing sealing of the office of a political party may be misused and have wide repercussions, which will not be appropriate in a democratic setup," the top court said.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli said, "We will not interfere with the order of the High Court. You (OPS) are expelled from the party. If we allow you to enter the party office, it would be a disaster. Overall, this order of the High Court has maintained the peace, and nothing untoward has happened for the past two months".
The top court said that its order will not come in the way of other proceedings pending in other judicial forums.
It told senior advocate Ranjeet Kumar, appearing for OPS, "In democracy, a political party cannot be stopped from functioning by sealing its office. One should allow democracy to function. Your client (OPS) is expelled, now let the party function. You can avail of other legal remedies and file a suit to establish your right. If you succeed, then you have a valid point".
The top court was hearing a plea of OPS challenging an order of July 20 of the Madras High Court, which had set aside the proceedings of the Tamil Nadu Revenue department locking and sealing of the AIADMK headquarters, following the July 11 violence and directed that the keys of the office be handed over to party chief K Palaniswami.
At the outset, Kumar said that the High Court ought to have remanded the matter back for proper consideration.
The bench said that the High Court has correctly said that the jurisdictional requirement of (a sub-divisional magistrate) for the exercise of power was found to be absent.
It said, "Allowing sealing of the office of a political party, may be misused and have wide repercussions, which will not be appropriate in a democratic setup. For a magistrate to attach the office of a political party is extraordinary. This means that you do not want a political party to function in a democracy".
Kumar said that there was a clash between two factions of the party workers and the magistrate relied on the photographs of the violence, after which it was sealed.
The bench said that then how the property became disputed.
Kumar replied that both the factions wanted to enter the property leading to clashes between the supporters.
The top court after perusing the documents said that the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO)/Executive Magistrate order is silent about the dispute over the building.
"The two factions may clash outside the party office but one cannot just go and seal the office. This is in no way justified", it said, adding that the High Court order was passed on July 20 and now it is September.
It said that for two months, this order of the High Court has brought peace, "let it be there", and "You can avail your remedy under the law".
On July 20, the High Court quashed the proceedings, while passing orders on the criminal original petitions from Palaniswami, the then party's interim general secretary.
It had directed the RDO/Executive Magistrate to remove the seal and hand over the keys to Palaniswami immediately and asked the Royapettah police to provide adequate protection to the office, round the clock, located on Avvai Shanmugam Salai.
No party cadres shall be allowed inside the office for one month to avoid any untoward incident, the High Court had added, while dismissing Panneerselvam's plea for granting possession of the party headquarters, 'MGR Maaligai,' to him.
The RDO had sealed the premises following a violent clash that broke out between supporters of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam on July 11, when a meeting of the AIADMK General Council, its highest decision-making body, picked the former as its interim general secretary, squeezing out OPS, whom it 'expelled' from the organisation.
The High Court had cited a similar incident that occurred in 1988 involving Janaki, wife of AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, in respect of the subject property, before the court. And it had held that even three days prior, Janaki had been in possession of the premises, the judge pointed out and applied the same theory in his present order.
"OPS, having attempted to stall the general council meetings, created a warlike situation, as a last resort on July 11. Any person said to have been expelled from primary membership cannot claim an absolute right to treat it as a dispute with regard to the property of the political party which does not belong to any of the individuals. He cannot create a war-like situation by breaking open the doors of the building which was kept under lock and key by the other side. Such an act is nothing but mere trespass," the high court had said.
The impugned order under Sec.145 CrPC does not even speak about who was in actual possession on the day of the order, whereas it was based on the main opinion that there was a likelihood of (violence) spreading over the issue to various parts of the State.
The mechanical order attaching the property of the headquarters of the prime opposition party of Tamil Nadu will strike the very democratic process and will amount to oppression, the high court had observed.
(With PTI inputs)