“As of now we cannot do anything even if it is proved that the structure is the election symbol of AIADMK”

As the Madras High Court is enquiring into the DMK’s petition challenging construction of a structure resembling the “two leaves symbol” (of the AIADMK) at the recently renovated memorial of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK founder, M.G. Ramachandran, on the Marina beach in Chennai, the Election Commission has made it clear that it has no role to play now.

“The model code of conduct and other restrictions on campaigning will be in force only when election is announced and as of now we cannot do anything even if it is proved that the structure is in fact the election symbol of the AIADMK,” a senior EC official told The Hindu here on Friday.

While the DMK claims that the structure is in fact the AIADMK’s symbol and wants it removed, the Tamil Nadu government maintains that it is not the symbol of the AIADMK as approved by the EC. The government has claimed that it was a “Y shaped structure with two wings, a honeycomb jaali arrangement at the top portion and ‘Pegasus,’ a flying horse.” There is no similarity between the structure and the party symbol, it reiterated.

The DMK had even petitioned the Chief Secretary and the Chief Election Commissioner to stop the addition of the “two leaves” to the MGR memorial at public cost.

“A symbol of a political party cannot be constructed at the cost of public money on a government property. A party in power cannot canvas for itself by erecting a permanent structure of its own symbol. This is misuse and gross abuse of power, besides a breach of trust and wastage of public money,” the DMK had said.

The EC official said that when the Lok Sabha/Assembly segment under which the MGR memorial was located goes to polls, the Commission might take a decision on draping the structure, if at all it was satisfied that the structure indeed was an election symbol. At that time the Commission would ensure a level playing field and a free and fair election.

He pointed to the EC’s order early this year on draping of statues of the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, and her party symbol, elephant, when the State went to Assembly polls.

“Even prior to the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections, a similar order to drape photographs/portraits of the then Prime Minister and BJP leader, A.B. Vajpayee, installed on highways and at golden quadrilateral road projects, was issued and it was adhered to,” recalled a senior EC official.

There used to be huge boards along the developed/underdeveloped highways, with photographs of a beaming Mr. Vajpayee waving to motorists. As many as 600 such boards were put up at a cost of Rs.48 crore and later Rs.1.8 crore was spent for their removal.

The EC asked the National Highways Authority of India to cover the boards as the model code did not allow display of hoardings paid for from the exchequer. The Opposition parties, led by the Congress, had complained that the boards gave the NDA unfair advantage at the public expense.

The EC, which also heard a complaint seeking freezing of the BSP’s symbol as elephant statues had been installed in parks and public places by spending the public money, rejected the plea after a detailed hearing.

On the plea to freeze the elephant symbol, the EC said this question could be considered only if the model code was violated. It was well settled that the code would come into play only when the poll schedule was announced.

“If a party, whether ruling or in the Opposition, by misusing public funds for its own partisan ends, erects or installs statues of its party symbol, even during non-election period, the party cannot absolve itself of the accusation that it has acted in breach of salutary principles underlying the objects of the code — maybe not in letter, but undoubtedly in spirit,” the EC had ruled then.

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