news Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 05:30
  This morning, newspaper readers across the country were subject to a ad-blitzkrieg from two political leaders. A letter written by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the NDA’s one year in office made front page accompanied by a picture of him, however, providing equal if not more competition in terms of newspaper ads were two frontpage advertisements promoting achievements under Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s four year rule - with no picture of the CM, a trend quite uncommon in the state. The reason for this is recent Supreme Court order prohibiting state governments from carrying pictures of Chief Ministers on government ads. In its ruling on May 13, partially accepting recommendations of an SC-appointed committee, the court stated that all government ads, whether Central or state, can carry only pictures of three people - the Prime Minister, President, and Chief Justice of India. In its SC order, a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi declared that photographs have the potential of developing a personality cult for the leaders, and that was the anti-thesis of democracy, thus allowing pictures of those holding the three offices. Interestingly, the SC bench deviated from the recommendation of the three-member committee which originally said no pictures should accompany govt ads, and if necessary, the photographs of the Prime Minister, President, state Governor or Chief Minister could be used.  The decision has no doubt created ripples across India, with both legal experts and political leaders commenting on SC verdict.  Political parties contend that the SC judgement goes against the very ideals of the Constitution contradicting the federal structure based on equality between the Centre and the State. Pointing out that both PMs and CMs are elected individuals and hence needed to treated at par, DMK leader and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi in a statement criticised the SC verdict calling it “snatching away the rights of states”.  Stating that in a federal set-up, both PMs and CMs have “equal status” he said. “Both Prime Minister and a Chief Minister were selected by the majority party, that is, one that had won elections, even as the President had the support of a political party.” “The state CM should not be secondary to the PM,” said AIADMK spokesperson, Rabi Bernard who felt that considering the number of illiterate people in India, images are the only way people will relate to their leader, “The first interaction of the people of the state is with the CM”, he said.  Last week, the TN government filed a petition in the SC asking for a review in its May 13 judgement. A newspaper from Tuesday celebrating the Centre's one year anniversary As of Tuesday, government ads strictly follow the SC guidelines by not including the name of the ruling party or include party logos, in sharp contrast to earlier days when newspapers were splashed with government ads carrying pictures of the Chief Minister and the party symbol. The intention of the judgement, the bench said, is framing guidelines to prevent the misuse of public funds by the government in placing ads for gaining political mileage. The SC order also states that though ads “may look like report cards”, it served an “element of informative content” in regard to government programmes and keep citizens informed of government functioning. Geetha Ramaseshan, senior lawyer at the Madras High Court questions the rationale behind the SC judgement.  “If the Prime Minister's picture is permitted then why is not the Chief Ministers’? And if CM’s pictures are used, why are not the ministers? There is no rationale behind it," she says.  Though senior lawyer and activist, Sudha Ramalingam did not approve of Central/State government funds being used for “sheer publicity”, she believed that it should be left to respective governments to decide. “I still feel that it should be the discretion of the respective government to use their leaders photos or not.” She says that the SC has stepped beyond its mandate by issuing such an order. “The Supreme Court could have stopped after giving an advice but has exceeded its mandate by getting into the domain of the executive. Ends cannot justify the means.” What caught the eye of many in the SC decision was not just the restrictions, but the surprise inclusion in the list of the Chief Justice of India. “I was surprised to find the CJI’s name included in the list,” says advocate Krishnamani, who appeared for one of the original petitioners in the PIL filed against the “wastage of public funds in connection with” government advertisements.  The original intent of the petitioner was to restrain both the Central and State governments in using public funds which leaves them unable to criticise the government, he said.  
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.