Narendra Modi’s Biopic Release
Sandeep Vinod Kumar Singh v Election Commission of India
A 3 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court chose not to interfere with an order passed by the Election Commission of India stalling the release of the PM Narendra Modi biopic.
Does a stay on the movie by Election Commission violate freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution?
Does Model Code of Conduct apply to individuals who are not political party members?
Whether Election Commission has the power to stall the release of a certified movie by citing Model Code of Conduct?
On 20th March 2019, the trailer of the film titled PM Narendra Modi was released. It showcases different phases in the life of the current Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. Originally, the film was scheduled for release on 5th April 2019. However, pursuant to the release of the trailer, a plea was filed before the Supreme Court by Congress leader Mr. Amit Panwar seeking a stay on the release of the film ahead of the upcoming General Elections, as the Model Code of Conduct was already in place.
Mr. Amit Panwar’s plea was dismissed by a Bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, which observed that the plea was premature given the fact that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was yet to grant a certificate to the film. Subsequently, even after the CBFC had granted the film a certificate, the Court declined to interere, stating that questions pertaining to the Model Code of Conduct must be decided by the Election Commission.
Then on 10th April, the Election Commission of India passed an order in exercise of its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution and stalled the release of the film. It held that film cannot be released while the Model Code of Conduct is in operation. It clarified in its order that any biopic which serves the interests of a political entity has the potential to disturb the level playing field during elections. The Model Code of Conduct came into operation on 10th March, 2019, i.e. the date of announcement of the general elections by the Commission.
On 12th April, the producers of the film challenged the Election Commission’s 10th April order. They contended that the order violates their right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution. Further, they claimed that the film itself is not a tool of political propaganda, but rather an inspirational story.
On 26th April 2019, the Supreme Court declared that it would not interfere in the Election Commission’s order. The film’s release remains stalled while the Model Code of Conduct is in effect.