Culture of Personality Cult

Sankara Narayanan

The Supreme Court has banned the use of photos of any politicians other than the Prime Minister in print advertisements placed by the government. The top court allowed the use of the pictures of the President and the Chief Justice of India. But even this can be done only if the personal approval of these three authorities got before publication.

A PIL filed by NGO Common Cause had argued that ruling party leaders and ministers were taking undue advantage at public expenses. A committee was formed by the Apex Court in April 2014 under the chairmanship of noted legal academician N S Madhava Menon on introducing checks on government-funded ads.

The judgment by a SC bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana came on the basis of a series of recommendations given by the Menon committee. A complete ban on publishing of photos in the ads and no ads should be allowed on election eve were the recommendations of the Menon panel.

In its verdict, the bench modified the recommendations on four counts : (1) Instead of a complete ban on publishing of photos of all individuals, it departs to the extent of saying that pictures of PM, President and CJI can be used provided they personally clear it—thus, in a way, making them also accountable for the publication. (2) The court improvises on the Menon committee recommendations to direct the government to appoint a three-member Ombudsman body of persons with "unimpeachable integrity". (3) The bench disagrees with the panel's suggestion for a performance audit on such government ads. (4) A curb on government ads on election eve is not needed. But such ads should be given with fairness and even dispensation to the media.

That taxpayers' money cannot be spent to build "personality cults" of political leaders is the noble intention behind this judgment. Though an overwhelming number of TV viewers (90%) welcomed this judgment, the top court in due course will receive more jeers than cheers. For this decision. Extraordinary situations (2G, Coal allocation, CWG etc) manufactured by a listless Manmohan Singh regime forced the Apex Court to adopt extraordinary interventions. But it can only be an exception and not a rule.

Certainly the SC is interfering in the domain of the legislatures and executive. If it keeps interfering in each matter under the sun, a day will come when people may question the judges why the municipality drain is unclean. Judges may be directed to appear in competitive examinations or contest the polls to act as executives or law makers. With its stake taking a hit after the recent judicial and non-judicial actions, the Apex Court should guard itself from possible ridicules in future.

A publicity mongering Narendra Modi may welcome this decision. But it will attract a barrage of protests from the Chief Ministers. If the photographs of the PM & CJI are permitted, how can one ban the photos of constitutionally elected CMs? How can the recommendations of the Apex Court be implemented on the ground?

Personality cult is part of prevailing political culture. Look at the election eve jamborees. They are like carnivals and festivals for people. Too much of curb on election time activities has already robbed the charm of the elections. No writing on the walls and no meeting after 10.00 PM etc are rash decisions. A political party with limited means can only write on walls. People celebrate festivals throughout the night. What is the problem if meetings are held after 10 PM? After all, these are all for a brief period only.

NGOs and very many citizens fed up with the activities of politicians and bureaucrats are stretching things too far. Unwittingly courts are becoming willing tools to such public rage. Unfortunately a democratic govt has to be run by politicians and bureaucrats only. Kneejerk reactions, chest thumping, pulp activism and jingoism cannot displace them.

Vol. 47, No. 51, June 28 - July 4, 2015