Rath ya­tra de­ferred

FrontLine - - OBITUARY - Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Ben­gal suf­fered yet an­other set­back as le­gal hur­dles pushed its pro­posed rath ya­tra to Jan­uary. The “Ganatantra Bachao” (Save Democ­racy) ya­tra, which was to com­mence on De­cem­ber 7, was ex­pected to give a boost to the BJP’S po­lit­i­cal chances in the State be­fore the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tion. How­ever, the re­peated de­lays in con­duct­ing the ya­tra may take the wind out of the BJP’S sails and soften its im­pact at the ground level.

After sev­eral weeks of twists and turns in court­rooms, the pro­gramme con­tin­ues to re­main at the plan­ning stage. The BJP was forced to ap­proach the Cal­cutta High Court as it did not re­ceive any re­sponse from the State ad­min­is­tra­tion to its let­ters seek­ing per­mis­sion to stage the rath ya­tra. If the BJP was de­ter­mined to hold the rath ya­tra, the Tri­namool Congress gov­ern­ment was equally firm against al­low­ing it. The rath ya­tra was sup­posed to have taken place in the dis­tricts of Cooch Be­har and Birb­hum and at Gan­gasagar in South 24 Para­ganas and cover all 42 Lok Sabha con­stituen­cies in the State.

On De­cem­ber 6, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion in­tel­li­gence in­puts from the dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tions that the rath ya­tra might dis­rupt com­mu­nal har­mony, the High Court di­rected the BJP to keep its pro­gramme on hold un­til Jan­uary 9. How­ever, the very next day a divi­sion bench of the court set aside the ear­lier or­der and in­structed the State ad­min­is­tra­tion and the po­lice to hold a meet­ing with the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the BJP and de­cide on the pro­posed ya­tra.

As per the court or­der, a meet­ing was held be­tween gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and BJP rep­re­sen­ta­tives. On De­cem­ber 15, the gov­ern­ment is­sued an of­fi­cial or­der re­fus­ing the BJP per­mis­sion to con­duct the ya­tra. A dis­ap­pointed BJP once again moved the High Court, and this time the rul­ing came in its favour. On De­cem­ber 21, while giv­ing his as­sent to the BJP’S pro­gramme, Judge Ta­pabrata Chakraborty said a threat to pub­lic or­der “must be real, not imag­i­nary or a likely pos­si­bil­ity”.

How­ever, the BJP had barely time to re­joice or fix new dates for the ya­tra, as on De­cem­ber 22, a divi­sion bench of the High Court stayed the sin­gle-bench or­der and re­ferred the case back to it. The divi­sion bench of Chief Jus­tice De­ba­sish Kar Gupta and Jus­tice Shampa Sarkar asked Jus­tice Chakraborty to con­sider the in­tel­li­gence in­puts that were sub­mit­ted by the State be­fore his court in a sealed en­ve­lope. Ac­cord­ing to Ad­vo­cate Gen­eral Kishore Dutta, Jus­tice Chakraborty re­turned the sealed en­ve­lope with­out con­sid­er­ing its con­tents. The divi­sion bench said: “The ya­tra can hap­pen only after a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the 35-page re­port sub­mit­ted by the dis­trict mag­is­trates, the su­per­in­ten­dents of po­lice, and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials of var­i­ous wings.”

With the Cal­cutta High Court closed for win­ter va­ca­tion from De­cem­ber 23 to Jan­uary 1, there is lit­tle the BJP can do now. A BJP source said: “We are con­sid­er­ing mov­ing the Supreme Court, but most likely it will be once the win­ter va­ca­tion is over.”

After the High Court rul­ing, State BJP pres­i­dent Dilip Ghosh said: “…let us once again em­pha­sise that this ya­tra is our demo­cratic right, and that is why we have called it ganatantra bachao ya­tra. Democ­racy is be­ing mur­dered in Ben­gal….the court never said that the ya­tra will not take place or it is il­le­gal. They have said that both sides should find a way to en­able the ya­tra to take place. But the State gov­ern­ment is de­ter­mined to pre­vent it.”

Although the High Court has not barred the BJP from hold­ing the ya­tra, re­peated de­lays are prov­ing to be de­mor­al­is­ing for the party work­ers. “We have been work­ing tire­lessly for this rath ya­tra, and time and again we have been dis­ap­pointed. The mood in the party rank and file was som­bre when the court turned down the state gov­ern­ment’s or­der [on De­cem­ber 21]. But then a sub­se­quent or­der of the divi­sion bench has once again damp­ened our spir­its,” said a BJP source. The State BJP lead­er­ship, how­ever, has lit­tle op­tion but to con­tinue putting on a brave front. “The ya­tra is def­i­nitely go­ing to hap­pen. There is no doubt about that. Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Baner­jee’s ef­forts to de­fer the in­evitable only ex­poses her in­se­cu­rity and her fear of the BJP’S grow­ing po­lit­i­cal clout in the State,” BJP leader Ab­hi­jit Roy Choud­hury told Front­line.

POSTERS along NH-31 an­nounc­ing the Ganatantra Bachao rath ya­tra in Cooch Be­har on De­cem­ber 6. Le­gal hur­dles have pushed the pro­posed rath ya­tra to Jan­uary.

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