Personality cults are not great for a republic or espoused in the Constitution, the Madras High Court orally observed today while hearing a petition challenging the law introduced by the Tamil Nadu government last year to convert former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s former residence “Veda Nilayam” into a public memorial.
The petition, moved by Jayalalithaa’s nephew, J Deepak came up before a Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy today, with Senior Advocate AR L Sundaresan leading the arguments for the petitioner.
“We do not mean any disrespect, but for successive Chief Ministers you cannot have this.. you can have one Gandhi, maybe one Nehru, since he was the first, one Patel… but if you keep extending it you would have memorials for Deputy Chief Ministers also!… This personality cult is not something that is great for a republic or espoused in a Constitution,” Chief Justice Banerjee remarked.
Chief Justice Banerjee, however, acknowledged that there were limitations on the extent to which a court can interfere in such matters where the decision has been taken by an elected government even if “we may not think it is in good taste.”
“We know the limitations of our jurisdiction and mostly we do not intefere… but we do not appreciate the philosophy behind it. We may be free in saying it … (although) it (State policy) may not be justiciable,” he remarked.
In the course of submissions, the Chief Justice asked the Advocate General Vijay Narayan, who appeared for the State,
“How long are you going to continue building memorials out of all these places.. have you almost exhausted the Marina (beach)?”
AG Narayan assured the Court that only a small part of the Marina beach has been used for memorial purposes and that no more of the area is likely to be taken over, in view of former Chief Justice Indira Banerjee’s earlier orders in a case concerning the Marina memorial.
He added that all States erect memorials for former Chief Ministers. In Tamil Nadu there were 17 dedicated to freedom fighters, former Chief Ministers or persons who have contributed greatly to the State, the culture, language etc.
“Every country in the world has memorials for such great leaders. The house where they stayed is taken over by State to perpetuate their memory. It is not unusual,” AG Narayan further said.
This prompted the Chief Justice to point out that this is not the case with Winston Churchill, who was described as being one the greatest leaders for the United Kingdom during the Second World War.
“The war was over, he was gone. How many memorials are there for Churchill?” Chief Justice Banerjee remarked.
AG Narayan acceded to the Chief Justice’s observations as far as Churchill is concerned but pointed out that the homes of several others of eminence, including William Shakespeare, have been preserved by the government.
It is a matter of government policy, AG Narayan added, although it prompted the Court to respond,
“When policy goes to the absurd, that is where we come in.”
Whereas the AG submitted that Jayalalithaa is being commemorated as she has contributed greatly to the State and to women, the High Court orally observed,
“We take it that she did. We are not going into that area. But there are several others… several judges who make great contributions, we don’t take up court space and put up statues… we may have few of legendary statues that we celebrate… there are already there are so many photos in this chamber, there will hardly be any space in 20 years.”
This story was initially published in Bar & Bench, and has been been subsequently published here as is.