Their political masters might disagree, but there was a sense of satisfaction among policemen in Lalbazar and an apparent determination to make the court order work on the streets of Calcutta.
“Earlier, for various reasons, it was difficult to stop rallies and processions on working days,” said deputy commissioner (traffic) M.K. Singh, who on Monday morning had stood for nearly an hour in the dock at the high court, replying to Justice Amitava Lala’s queries and nodding at his observations. “Now, we have a court order to show when we stop processions on the streets. We will try our best to implement the order.”
Officials admitted that rallies on working days were “a headache” for policemen. “But there was nothing we could do, as the ruling party itself indulged in such rallies,” an official said. “Now, we cannot afford to ignore the court order, or we will be hauled up for contempt.”
Deputy commissioner (headquarters) Kuldiep Singh said: “Earlier, we could not do anything to stop the rallies as the organisers would say that we are violating their democratic and fundamental rights. Now, we can simply say that we are following the court’s orders. We welcome the judgment and our officers will try their best to implement the order. We will chalk out our strategy in the next few days.”
Officers, however, admit that this is easier said than done. In the past, too, when the police had denied permission to rallies on working days, political parties had ignored the refusal and gone ahead. The police simply had to look the other way.
“What are we expected to do when 20,000 people are marching down the street and refusing to listen to us'” asked an officer. “If we lathicharge, they will charge back at us, leaving us with no option but to open fire, in which many people might die, including innocent bystanders. The situation would spin out of control and there would be a terrible backlash.”
M.K. Singh said that it would take at least a few days to figure out how to implement the court’s order. “But we are talking to our counterparts in the neighbouring districts, which are the sources for a bulk of the people at the rallies. If we can stop these people from entering the city, a significant part of our problem can be solved,” he said.
Another officer suggested another option: arrest processionists the moment they start to flout the order. “We would definitely get to know whether a group was trying to take out processions without police permission,” he said. “We could nip the rally in the bud by making the arrests before the procession picks up pace.”
The force knows it has a tough task ahead, but officers cite the ban on firecrackers and the success they have achieved in implementing it. “This, too, was triggered by a court order, and we have managed to make Diwali a relatively quiet affair. Monday’s order will be more difficult to implement, as politicians and political issues are involved, but if a task has to be done, it has to be done,” said a Lalbazar officer.