In a recent legal development in , the Madras High Court has upheld the right of political parties to engage in political agitation, asserting that such activity may only be challenged if it is deemed contrary to public policy. This judgment came in response to a public interest litigation filed against the DravidaMunnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party’s signature campaign, which seeks to abolish the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).
The signature campaign, titled “NEET Vilaku, Nam Ilakku” (Abolishing NEET is our goal), was initiated by UdayanidhiStalin, the Tamil Nadu Sports and Youth Development Minister, with the aim of collecting 50 lakh signatures within 50 days. The collected signatures will subsequently be sent to President Draupadi Murmu in a bid to abolish the NEET examination.
However, Advocate ML Ravi filed a public interest litigation opposing the campaign, contending that NEET has already been enacted and implemented and that challenges to NEET have reached their conclusion. He further argued that a minister, who is essentially an implementing agent, should not publicly announce protests against established laws. He emphasized that, while the Constitution grants every individual the right to protest, ministers are expected to uphold the constitution and the law.
Moreover, Ravi raised concerns that the DMK, being the ruling party, was taking advantage of its position and conducting political activities within schools without the consent of students’ parents. He feared that the campaign might discourage students from preparing for NEET examinations, potentially diminishing their opportunities.
During the court proceedings, the judges questioned Ravi about how he was personally affected by a political party’s campaign. They also instructed Ravi to deposit one lakh rupees, after which he decided to withdraw his plea.
This legal battle brings to light a key constitutional principle regarding the rights of political parties to engage in political agitation. The Madras High Court’s decision reaffirms that such parties have the liberty to raise issues, protest, and campaign for changes in laws and policies. This right is fundamental in any democracy that values free speech and political participation.
However, the court has set a boundary: any agitation or campaign by a political party should not contravene the principles of public policy. The court’s role is to assess whether the campaign, protest, or agitation is within the bounds of established law and the fundamental tenets of the constitution. In this case, the DMK’s anti-NEET campaign did not cross these boundaries, allowing the party to exercise its political rights.
The DMK’s anti-NEET campaign, despite the legal challenge it faced, continues to mobilize public support. The debate surrounding the NEET exam, its impact on students, and the health and education sectors in India is far from over. The political parties, including the DMK, have a constitutional responsibility to engage in such discussions, and the Madras High Court has firmly upheld this principle. This case is a clear example of the balance between free speech, political rights, and the judiciary’s role in upholding the constitution’s integrity.
As the NEET exam remains a contentious issue in India, the role of political parties in voicing concerns and seeking change is crucial. This ruling by the Madras High Court underscores the importance of respecting political freedom while also ensuring that the principles of public policy are upheld. It highlights that the court is a guardian of constitutional values and that any challenge to political activity must be grounded in legal principles and not arbitrary objections.
In a democratic society, the right to dissent, protest, and campaign for change is a cornerstone of the political process. While this case concerned the NEET exam, its implications extend beyond a single issue and emphasize the broader significance of preserving democratic values and the rule of law.
The debate over NEET’s future in India is ongoing, with political parties, advocates, and the public playing pivotal roles. This legal battle and the court’s decision affirm that the voices of these parties are critical, even when their campaigns challenge established laws. By defending the right to agitate, the Madras High Court reaffirms the essence of democratic participation and the significance of political freedom.