When wall writings were viewed with annoyance

When wall writings were viewed with annoyance

Poll graffiti have become so common and predictable during elections in Kerala that, for the most part, they seldom draw comment or even a second glance.

But that apparently was not the case when they first began making an appearance on the election scene. ‘Wall writings,’ for all their novelty and campaign value, were also viewed with a certain amount of consternation, given their nuisance value in defacing government and private property.

Documents from the Travancore-Cochin era reveal the gravity with which ‘Writing on walls and buildings for election propaganda’ was viewed back then. They even prompted questions in the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly with one member even asking whether a ban was planned!

Raising the matter in the Assembly in February 1953, member O.C. Ninan wanted replies from the then Minister for Finance and Civil Supplies Panampilli Govinda Menon on whether these writings had the sanction of the government. Ninan also wanted to know whether the government would “consider putting a stop to this mode of propaganda by making rules”.    

To Ninan’s questions, Govinda Menon replied that the government had indeed noted the appearance of “such writings’‘ on walls and buildings and that they had the consent of neither the government nor — in the case of private property — the owner. 

He went on to add that the government would examine whether the use of government property for such purposes could be prevented. And when Ninan wanted to know why the government had not taken any action so far, Govinda Menon quipped; “Because government often read the ‘writings on the wall’!” He also went on to add that poll graffiti were “more often ignored than removed”, something which remains true for 21st century elections as well. 

Campaign graffiti continue to provoke complaints. Election Commission of India (ECI) data accessed by The Hindu show that ‘property defacement’ had attracted 2,396 complaints in Kerala by March 30 in connection with the April 26 Lok Sabha elections.

The model code of conduct (MCC), which, by the way, is Kerala’s contribution to elections in India, devotes an entire chapter to ‘Defacement of public/private property.’ The MCC manual discourages political parties from using government buildings and campuses for wall writings and other campaign propaganda. It goes on to add that where local law permits, they can be used on private premises with the owner’s permission.

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