Hoardings, posters, flex boards, life-size cut-outs—outdoor advertising, in sum—that are a part of the cityscape may be many an aesthete’s nightmare, but it is political posters/signages and adverts that B Thirulochana Kumari of Arumbakkam, Chennai, reserves a particular scorn for. She had petitioned the Madras High Court to ensure that such political advertising was removed from in front of her house. While the High Court order in the matter was in her favour, the full import of the order is rather draconian. The court has banned depiction of people who are alive in banners, flex boards, sign-boards, etc, in the entire state. This means while an AIADMK poster may feature J Jayalalithaa, and even MG Ramachandran, it can’t feature O Panneerselvam (OPS) or chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS). The court has also ordered that photographs/pictures of those who sponsor such advertising can’t be featured.
The court directed the Tamil Nadi chief secretary to ensure that a “clean atmosphere” is maintained in the state, and to that end, also ensure the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act are complied with. But, in what is clear overreach, it said that relevant civic authorities must ensure that ads/signages don’t feature a living person. The “dead only” insistence robs the living of the chance to create their own legacies—more likely than not, the only association of a leader’s good work, in the voter’s mind, will be with the party symbol and/or a dead leader. Given the order doesn’t specify only political advertisements, it can always be extended to corporate and other advertising. Confusion is all that will result—the model in a ad may be living, but the advertisement is of a product. A film’s poster may feature a living person, but in the poster, she represents a fictional person. How does the order square with such situations? The High Court may have wanted to free public spaces of enormous cut-outs, posters, etc. But its order thoroughly violates the legitimate right of an individual to promote herself and perhaps even the right of a corporate to promote its product.