In a landmark judgement delivered on Wednesday, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Piki Chandra Ghose prohibited the use of photographs of political leaders, including ministers, appearing in advertisements issued by the government and its agencies, saying that such photographs lead to the promotion of a persolity cult. The learned judges, however, permitted the use of photographs of the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and departed leaders including the Father of the tion in such advertisements. [However, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi insists that he has seen the apex court order, and that the photographs of chief ministers have been allowed.] The judges were of the view that government advertisements in connection with an event along with the photograph of a State or party functiory have a tendency of associating that individual with the achievements sought to be highlighted. The judges were of the view that such media blitz has a “potential of developing the persolity cult” around such State functiories.
There could not have been a more popular or better timed judgement against the blatant misuse of government advertisements. The judgement is of special significance for Assam, where, day in and day out, one sees government advertisements with the Chief Minister’s photograph taking up huge chunks of space to project the untruth that he is the sole individual responsible for all the so-called development that is taking place in Assam. The Supreme Court verdict is of special significance for Assam for two reasons. In the first place, newspapers of Assam are full of government advertisements proclaiming the wonderful performance of the government in diverse aspects of so-called development not visible to the common people. So frequent and plentiful are these advertisements that several newspapers of the State eke out a survival with no other source of revenue except the huge advertisements of the Assam government. So prodigal is the State government about advertisements of its own performance that people are beginning to wonder whether the Centre’s grant for the updating of the NRC will also be almost entirely used up to pay the cost of newspaper and television advertisements that have become needlessly frequent. Here is a government that seeks to govern almost entirely through advertisements and drumbeating of its own performance. Secondly, it will not do to forget that the coming Assembly elections of Assam are just a year away, and our top leaders, including the Chief Minister can benefit from all the free publicity and image-building that they can get during the run-up to the 2016 elections. The Chief Minister’s obsession with seeing his photograph in all government advertisements is too well known. With the present freedom that he has of projecting himself on the electorate at government expense, he would have used public money recklessly to increase the quantum of government advertisements up to election time. In doing so, he would have garnered all the credit for the so-called development about which the government blows its trumpet. And one cannot identify more than one or two ministers who are averse to getting free publicity and image-building before the Assembly elections at government cost.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgement on keeping out the photographs of ministers and politicians from government advertisements comes at an appropriate time for Assam considering the 2016 Assembly elections. The judgement is expected to place curbs on politicians of Assam who are committed to the loaves and fishes of office without any performance but with a great deal of publicity. While most people have no objections to photographs of the President of India and the Chief Justice of India in advertisements relating to functions to be attended by them, one fails to see why a distinction should be made between the Prime Minister of India and chief ministers of the different States. After all, prime ministers of India (with the sole exception of Dr Manmohan Singh) have had to get elected to the Lok Sabha. If government advertisements should not be used to develop the persolity cult of any political leader, by the same token, the Prime Minister should not be exempt from this sensible embargo that applies to other political leaders. In fact, regardless of the exemption granted by the Supreme Court to the Prime Minister of India, he should, on his own, inform the tion that he too has chosen to abide by the Supreme Court’s directive since he is also an elected leader of the people like other politicians.