A day after BJP workers pasted photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on billboards for the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai saying they featured only Chief Minister M K Stalin, the Madras High Court Thursday ordered the Tamil Nadu government to ensure that photographs of the President and Prime Minister are published in all Chess Olympiad advertisements in print and electronic media.
Rejecting the state government’s submission that the President’s photograph was not published because the Presidential election had not concluded and that of the Prime Minister because consent from his office came late, the bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice S Ananthi said “the interest of the nation should be (of) paramount importance in the mind of every citizen”.
“International events hosted depict the image of the country in the international fora. It not only shows the development of the country, but its capability to organize an international event at such short notice… every government should work, including the State Government… When our country is hosting such an international event, it is the bounden duty of one and all to ensure that such function is organized efficiently and we leave an indelible mark at the international level,” it said.
The bench directed the district administration to “ensure that no damage or destruction is caused to any of the advertisements published containing the photographs of the Hon’ble President and the Prime Minister, apart from the Chief Minister, and if any such activities are reported, strict action should be taken against such personnel”.
Petitioner R Rajesh Kumar from Sivaganga district had urged the court to declare the use of only the photograph of the Chief Minister in “adverisement/promotion” of the Chess Olympiad as “illegal, arbitrary and in violation of the directions” of the Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Union of India (2015) and State of Karnataka v. Common Cause (2016) which directed publication of photographs of the President and Prime Minister.
His plea was that the state government was disregarding the Supreme Court order because an international event could not be an event of the state hosting it. He said this was “an official function at the international level, organized using public money”.
The Advocate General and the government’s counsel submitted that the state government never intended to exclude publication of the photographs of the President or Prime Minister in the advertisements. They submitted that they could not include the photograph of the President because the Presidential election had not concluded when the state government was doing the groundwork for organising the Chess Olympiad as well as preparing the advertisements.
The state government said it had no intention of flouting directives of the Supreme Court and there was no ill-intention behind the non-publication and urged the court to render the petition “infructuous” and dismiss it.
The bench said the state’s submission of the Presidential election not being concluded as a reason for the omission cannot be accepted “because the advertisements were issued even after the declaration of the result of the Presidential elections without the photograph of the Hon’ble President of India.”
It also rejected the state’s argument that non-publication of the photograph of the Prime Minister was due to the receipt of the consent from his office belatedly. “The photograph of the Prime Minister was required to be published even if he could not have inaugurated the event. What has to be noted here is that despite the Parliament session, the Prime Minister has decided to inaugurate the function, considering the significance of the event at the international level,” it said.
Citing the Supreme Court order, the bench said “it should be ensured that even if the dignitaries like the Hon’ble President or the Prime Minister of India accept the invitation for an international event or not, the advertisements should contain their photographs, in as much as they represent the country at the international level.”