Madras High Court: The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., expressed that:
Election Commission has sufficient authority to put checks and balances in place that allow a Minister or the like to enjoy the status yet not spend official funds for campaigning or election purposes.
Petitioner sought prohibition on Ministers and the like from campaigning in the elections as they hold public offices, draw a salary from the government and were in a position to exert undue influence.
Further, it was added that the petitioners shall be restrained to campaign for their party candidates contest in the general elections (except their candidature).
In an ideal world, there should be a level playing field where government functionaries do not use the perks and benefits in the office while they campaign for election purposes.
Further, it was noted that a Minister may be willing to shed his official bandobast to attend a rally merely as a politician, the very status of the Minister and the requirement to give him security cover may not permit the freedom that would be required for the purpose. This goes more so with higher officials like Chief Ministers and those holding cabinet positions at the Centre.
It was stated that the petitioner’s idealism may be slightly out of place. However, Strict Election Commission could put some guidelines in place, adding to the present ones in order to at least ensure that the government funds are not brazenly used for campaigning purposes as is usually being indulged.
Bench in view of the above added that the malaise is now deep-rooted.
One has to wear allegiance to a political leader, if not on the sleeve at least visibly crying out of the pocket. And these are not only at election time but adopted as a perennial measure, almost as a talisman to ward off the evil eye.
High Court held that the Election Commission will deal with the petitioner’s representation, if not for the upcoming elections, then for the future elections. [Ahimsa Socialist Party v. Chief Election Commissioner, WP No. 5179 of 2021, decided on 23-03-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
For Petitioner: Mr. T. Sivagnanasambandan
For Respondents: Mr. Niranjan Rajagopal