Days before AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa’s likely return to the helm in Tamil Nadu, the state government moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday for a review of its controversial judgment last week that barred publication of images of chief ministers in official advertisements.
The review petition said the May 13 verdict that permitted government advertisements to carry photographs of only the Prime Minister, President and Chief justice of India violated the constitutional right of equality before law. This is the first review petition filed by a state government and others are expected to follow suit.
The petition said the judgment suffered from patent errors as it strayed into the executive domain, failing to take into account the country’s federal structure. The state was the guardian of its finances and hence, empowered to take decisions on how to best utilise it, Tamil Nadu told the top court.
The ruling has been criticised by political parties and experts alike for favouring the Centre over the states. Some leaders, such as the DMK’s M Karunanidhi, also alleged the verdict benefited BJP-ruled states – which can use an image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – over the others.
The petition said there was nothing wrong if state government ads highlighted achievements by showcasing photographs of the state head and other ministers. The publication of ads was within the government’s decision-making power and courts must not interfere with it, the appeal read.
“If the photograph of the prime minister is permitted on the advertisement then photographs of the chief minister must have also been permitted by this court,” Tamil Nadu said.
Jayalalithaa, who enjoys a cult following in Tamil Nadu, often appears in state government ads and many of her flagship programmes are branded “Amma”, a name given to her by followers. Giant billboards with her portrait adorn the streets of several Tamil Nadu cities.
Issuing the guidelines, the SC bench headed by justice Ranjan Gogoi had said the publication of photographs of individuals had the potential of creating a “personality cult”, which went against “democratic functioning” and was a “gross wastage of public funds”.
The regulations applied to all media — such as print, broadcast, billboards, the internet — and would be in place until the government brought in a law on the subject, the ruling had said.
The top court’s guidelines were based on a court-appointed committee’s recommendations but made a departure vis-à-vis the publication of images of the CM, governor and ministers. This, Tamil Nadu’s review petition complained, was without any reasons assigned.