The Madras high court on Thursday said personality cults are not great for a republic or a country’s Constitution while hearing a case on converting late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s 'Veda Nilayam' residence in Chennai into a memorial.
Chief justice Sanjib Banerjee and justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy were hearing a petition filed by Jayalalithaa’s legal heir and nephew J Deepak challenging notification for acquiring her aunt's house to convert it into a memorial and the award passed by the Land Acquisition Officer. The Veda Nilayam premises is still out of bounds for the public in view of a Madras High Court order and the government has moved an appeal challenging the single judge's interim order.
Advocate general Vijay Narayan, appearing for the state government, said “Personality cult is not something great for a republic... or Constitution,” adding that several governments had preserved the homes of eminent personalities after converting them into memorials including Mahatma Gandhi, William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill. Chief justice Banerjee countered saying that the former UK Prime Minister Churchill had no memorial to his name.
The Judges, however, observed that while memorials for Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel can be made, "But if you keep extending it you would have memorials for deputy chief ministers also!”, they were quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.
The memorial by the government was declared open by Chief Minister K Palaniswami in Chennai last week. The Chief Minister announced that her birth anniversary on February 24 would be celebrated as a state event every year. Palaniswami, flanked by his cabinet colleagues, including Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal paid floral tributes to a portrait of Jayalalithaa and they lit a traditional lamp symbolising the opening of the memorial. Later, unveiling a life size statue of Jayalalithaa here Palaniswami announced that the late leader's birth anniversary on February 24 would be observed as a government event to honour her. The nine feet high statue has been set up in the premises of a state-run higher education facility on Kamarajar Salai in front of the Marina beach here.
Named after the former Chief Minister's mother Vedavalli (whose screen name was Sandhya), 'Veda Nilayam' at number 81, in upscale Poes Garden is spread over 24,322 square feet and has a landscaped garden. The residential building comprises office room, library, waiting room for guests, conference hall and the premises has been cleaned up and painted, a government release said. Reportedly, the property was bought by Jayalalithaa's mother in the late 1960''s and it was home to the late Chief Minister for over three decades where several leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called on her.
The Madras High Court had allowed the government to go ahead with the opening ceremony but ordered that the building shall not be thrown open to the public. In its interim order, the court said, "This case spotlights that the challenge involved here is not only confined to the correctness or the legality of the acquisition of the immovable property in Veda Nilayam, but to the incomplete process of acquisition of the movables also." On August 17, 2017 Palaniswami had announced that Veda Nilayam would be converted into a memorial and opened to public in remembrance of her achievements and service to the people. The Tamil Nadu Assembly had in September 2020 adopted a Bill to replace an ordinance issued for possession of the late Chief Minister''s residence here and to facilitate vesting of movable properties therein with the government.
(With PTI inputs)