People have right to know electoral representative meets whom: HC, dismisses Sasikala's plea

New Delhi, Jun 2 (PTI) People have a right to know with whom their electoral representative is meeting behind closed doors and hobnobbing with, the Delhi High Court Tuesday held.

The observation by the High Court came while dismissing with cost a plea by erstwhile AIADMK leader Sasikala Pushpa that her image was being tarnished due to uploading of her alleged morphed photos and videos with a man on social networking platforms.

Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said the politician was not found entitled to any relief against the social media giants to remove the photographs and to block access to them and directed her to equally pay costs of Rs two lakh each to Facebook Inc on the one hand and Google LLC and YouTube LLC together on the other hand.

“I am therefore of the opinion that the claim of the plaintiff (Sasikala), of the photographs being morphed, forged and fabricated, does not deserve to be put to trial. For a plaintiff to succeed on a plea of morphing, forgery or fabrication of photographs, the alleged forger/fabricator or the person who has morphed the photographs, is necessary party and without the said person, no finding of the photographs being morphed, forged and fabricated can be returned,” the judge said, adding that she has not impleaded the man in the photos as a party to the lawsuit.

Sasikala, who was an expelled AIADMK MP (Rajya Sabha) at the time of filing of suit in 2016, has joined the BJP in April this year.

The high court, in its 43-page judgement, said once Sasikala has described herself as a politician and an elected representative of the people, that is, a public persona, mere presence of a man, belonging to DMK political party, besides her in the photographs, other than her husband, can by no standard of a reasonable person be said to be defamatory of her as she is bound to come in contact with women and men in her political journey.

“Thus, the photographs of the plaintiff, I repeat, a politician, with a man other than husband, can by any stretch of imagination be considered by any person of average intellect and moral standard, to be lowering the esteem in which the plaintiff is held or as tarnishing the image of the plaintiff,” the judge said.  The high court said it is required to balance the right claimed by the woman politician of privacy qua whom she meets at her residence, with the right of the public to know the identity of the person whom she meets and hobnobs with, behind closed doors.

“Considering the fact that the plaintiff is a politician, participating in the electoral process and is a representative of the people, the people and/or the electorate certainly have a right to know that the plaintiff behind closed doors meets and hobnobs a man to whom she is not married and particularly a man who belongs to a political party which is a rival of political party to which the plaintiff belongs.

“The plaintiff, as a representative of people and whether performing executive function or functions as a Legislator, would be issuing orders / directions and/or participate in lawmaking, regulating the conduct of human beings and in the said context the electorate has a right to know of the behind curtains meetings of the plaintiff with a man other than her husband and particularly a man belonging to a political party which the plaintiff, before the public criticises or opposes in the elections,” it said.

The high court added that if such meetings with a member of a rival political party, which the plaintiff wants to remain hidden from the public, are not of interest to the public for the purposes of maintaining purity of administration and law making, little else would qualify as of public interest.

It said Sasikala cannot be permitted to publicly oppose and criticise a political party to whose members she is otherwise close or at least public has an interest in knowing the true state of affairs.

“... the public interest in knowing the meeting of the plaintiff at her residence with a man belonging to a rival political party far outweighs the private interest of the plaintiff of keeping the same hidden from public eyes. The plaintiff has not pleaded the public interest in her said meetings and/or in keeping the same hidden,” the high court said.  Earlier, in an interim order, the high court had restrained Facebook, Google and Youtube from publishing or showing any alleged derogatory photographs of Pushpa after she claimed that some unknown persons were threatening to tarnish her image by uploading her morphed photos and videos.

She had sought an injunction order against the social media platforms on the ground that they have not made any attempt to verify the authenticity of the photographs before uploading it. PTI SKV HMP RKS RKS