Jayalalithaa is not Gandhi: Why Madras HC rejected Veda Nilayam memorial

Rejecting the AIADMK govt's stand that Veda Nilayam should be a Jayalalithaa memorial, the court said it wouldn't "remain insensitive and play “Dhridarashtra” when the government decides to divert crores of public money mindlessly."
Jayalalithaa paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi's statue.
Jayalalithaa paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi's statue.
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Jayalalithaa cannot be compared to Mahatma Gandhi, the Madras High Court has inferred in its order rejecting the previous Tamil Nadu government's stand that former CM Jayalalithaa's residence should be acquired to build a government memorial. The court gave the residence ‘Veda Nilayam’ to Jayalalithaa's legal heirs Deepa and Deepak (her deceased brother's children) and said that public money should not be used for building memorials unless the person in question has dedicated their life to, and made sacrifices for, the society.

The court order is based on a petition by Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa and nephew Deepak, claiming their rights to the Veda Nilayam property, after it was taken over by the previous Tamil Nadu government led by the AIADMK to build a memorial for the former Chief Minister. The court examined whether it was justified for the government to take over a private property for this cause, thereby looking into whether it is ‘useful’ for the public at large to have a government memorial for Jayalalithaa at Veda Nilayam.

“Reverting back to the core issue, is the decision of the Government to constitute the residence of late Ms Jayalalithaa as a memorial at the cost of public money useful to the public?,” the court questioned, and said, “The popularity of the leader, or the respect a leader may have commanded, or the electoral successes achieved by themselves may not be adequate, since their mechanics and dynamics are regulated by a combination of complex-calculus of politico-social psychology and strategies. And, these factors can only demonstrate prima facie, the value and indispensability of the leader to the political party or any organisation to which the leader may belong. However, justification for acquisition of private property in law is only based on its usefulness to the public at large, unrelated to the excitement or sentiments of the political party in power.”

The government in its defence had quoted a ruling on the acquisition of a property in Gujarat for building a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi. Justice Seshasayee in his judgment referred to this and said, “In drawing strength from this passage, has not the government acknowledged that the benchmark for establishing a memorial with public money can be justified only if the life and contribution of the person for whom the memorial is proposed approximates the life of Gandhiji and those of his ilk?”

“Any memorial for Gandhiji and/or any of those who joined him with a sense of renunciation, is a befitting tribute that the nation can give them. These memorials will remind generations of our countrymen that there lived these men, not as characters in fables or comics but in flesh and blood, on the face of this country, for them to emulate. Is it not therefore necessary if the persons in whose memory the government contemplates dedicating memorials, no matter how worshipful it may consider that they are, meets this criteria?” the court asked. “Is it not necessary for them to inform the people of this country, and not just the members of the political party to which the leader belonged, that the life of the leader indeed was a message: a life of sacrifices, integrity, fidelity to Constitutional ethos, to state a few? It may now mean that any life in public life may deserve a memorial at the cost of public money only when it also has demonstrably dedicated itself to the service of the society or even a section thereof, but along the lines of the Constitutional values.”

“A memorial is not a piece of structure, nor a monument, nor an art-exhibit for promoting tourism, but is a symbolism of the principles that characterized the person for whom a memorial is proposed,” the judgment further said. “It is not dictated by professional achievements, political populism, an image carefully groomed by cultivated charisma, electoral victories, but is defined by how dedicated the life has been to the cause of, not a caste (or even anti caste), or a political party, but to the society, to preserve rights of its members, to conserve its culture and wealth in the spirit of Constitutional values. A life that was must be the message it should leave. Its value must be measured by the dedication and sacrifices made — not in anticipation of any accolades or in expectation of an honour in the Ashoka hall of fame, but in the realisation of one’s duty to the society. Memorials would then be erected for those lives, not just in their honour but also as a reminder to inspire and motivate generations of citizens,” the court said.

To the AIADMK government’s defence that Jayalalithaa brought in several welfare measures, the court said, “Are not providing welfare measures without any personal gain the duty of any Government? At any rate are the reasons cited explain why there ought to be a second memorial for the same leader?” (sic) The judge pointed to the ‘imposing phoenix like’ structure built as a memorial already for Jayalalithaa, the court said, “The Marina memorial does not involve any acquisition, but does it not inform that a memorial indeed has come up for Ms Jayalalithaa? ‘Veda Nilayam’ is only a few kilometers away from the Phoenix-memorial. Is it not one memorial too many? What is the inspirational story that ‘Veda Nilayam’ may provide which the Marina memorial does not? What then is the public purpose in acquiring a private residence of the former Chief Minister?”

The court also came down heavily on the government for wasteful spending of public money. “In a state where the substantial number of its populace are struggling for a dignified life under the Constitution, for whom Part III and Part IV of the Constitution are yet to become relevant, the Court may not remain insensitive and play Dhritarashtra when the Government decides to divert crores of public money mindlessly. Has not the cry of the citizens reached the powers that be? The Daridra Narayanas of this country are being promised El Dorado since independence. With no intent to make a political statement, yet with no intent to blindfold itself to the reality around, it must be told that the electoral processes this country witnesses have become a quinquennial revival or renewal of these promises. This is not to discount the strident growth the country has seen in multiple spheres, but it equally cannot be discounted that we have miles to go to see the smiles on the face of every citizen of this country,” the judgment said.

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