As the descendants of colonialism and monarchies, we are quite familiar with the practice of naming the institutions, buildings, important roads in the memory of the Kings and Queens who ruled us. The Victoria memorial, King George hospitals, Nizam College, Krishna Raja market, Maharaja's colleges etc. are etched into our memories. At least here, we can console ourselves by saying that it is a practice in a monarchy. But, what if the practice of naming after the incumbent heads of the democratically elected Government is prevalent?
The State of Andhra Pradesh is forefront in this naming saga. The State Government has at least 7 welfare schemes in the name of the present Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagananna Vasathi Deevana (Jaganna's accommodation blessings), Jagananna Vidya Deevana (educational scheme), Jagananna Gorumuddha (mid-day meal scheme), Jagannaa Chedodu (Jegananna's assistance), Jagananna Amma Vodi (Jagananna's scheme for mothers), Jagananna Vidya Kanuka (Jagananna's education gift), YSR-Jagananna Colonies are the schemes named after the Chief Minister who came to power with a thumping majority in 2019. The list would further increase, if we also include the schemes named after CM's father and former CM of the State, Dr. Y S Rajashekara Reddy (Dr. YSR). As it has become a custom now, the present Government changed the schemes named after the former CM and founder of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Mr. N T Rama Rao to Dr. YSR. To be fair to the present Government, even the previous TDP Government has schemes named after the then CM Chandra Babu Naidu (Chandranna Peeli Kanuku, Chandranna Bheema etc.) Even the sister state of Telangana has a scheme named after its CM K Chandrashekara Rao (KCR Kits scheme). How can the schemes be named after the Chief Ministers holding the office, as if it is their personal charity? Is it not an indirect way of gaining political mileage by promoting the political leaders using the public money? This practice of naming the schemes after the serving CMs is against the principles and traditions of democracy and rule of law.
This naming saga merits serious consideration in the light of the recent judgement of the AP High Court, where the Court quashed a memo which allowed the panchayath offices to be painted in the colours of the ruling YSRC party's flag. After coming to the power, the YSRCP Government vide a memo dated 11.08.2019 permitted the panchayath buildings to be painted in the colours resembling the party flag. The Court opined that painting the Government offices in the colours of the flag of the ruling party amounts to gaining unfair political advantage and is violation of rule of law. The judgement was later approved by the Supreme Court in appeal proceedings. In the said case, the High Court has heavily relied on the 2015 judgement of the Supreme Court of India in Common Cause v. Union of India, where the apex court has given the guidelines on the Government advertising. Though our issue at hand (naming of the schemes) is not advertising per se, the expansive interpretation given by the court to 'advertising' along with the spirit of the judgement covers this situation too. After all, when the Governments advertise the schemes, the names of the schemes are also promoted.
The objectives of the said guidelines are very clear regarding the political neutrality in the Government advertising. The guidelines provide that the Government advertising should not be used to "project particular personalities, parties or governments without any attendant public interest." It also states that "Government advertising shall maintain political neutrality and avoid glorification of political personalities and projecting a positive impression of the party in power or a negative impression of parties critical of the government". What is happening with the naming of the schemes after incumbent Chief Ministers is glorification of their political personalities, to gain undue political mileage at the cost of the public resources. The practice of renaming the schemes for the namesake, when new Governments take charge is in complete violation of one of the guidelines which says that "Pre-existing policies, products, services and initiatives should not be presented as new unless there has been a substantial change or modification of such policies, products or services." There can be no doubt that, this practice of naming is in clear violation of the guidelines given by the Supreme Court of India, not to mention the democratic traditions and the rule of law. More imminent danger to our democracy because of this practice is elevation of these political leaders to the status of demigods. Like one of our founding fathers and chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly Dr. Ambedkar warned us on the day of adoption of our Constitution, "Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship." (26th November 1949- Constituent Assembly Debates).
(The author Sri Harsha Kandukuri is LLM student at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of LiveLaw)