The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Right of road versus right to protest

Right of passage or right to protest' As word of Monday’s high court judgment banning rallies on weekdays filtered out, political parties, setting aside their daily dose of differences, went into a collective combat mode, challenging judicial authority and daring the police to enforce Justice Amitava Lala’s law.

Former chief minister and senior CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu led the way, terming the court directive an infringement on fundamental rights. “The directive is shocking for political parties, who organise rallies to highlight people’s plight and important issues. It is true that some people are inconvenienced by rallies, but then where will the aggrieved go to voice their protest'” he demanded.

Taking the argument a step further, state Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh said that even during British rule, people enjoyed the right to organise processions and conduct meetings. “If rallies are banned in Independent India, then what freedom did we achieve by ousting the British'” he thundered, adding that the people’s democratic right to voice their grievances would be hit by the court ruling.

Ghosh also urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to convene a meeting of all chief ministers across the country to discuss the “burning issue”.

Trimamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, while declining comment on the judgment, did however make her point: “Taking out processions and holding meetings are part of our fundamental rights. If there is an incident that evokes public response, people spontaneously take out processions and hold meetings.”

The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) felt that banning rallies from city streets would hurt the working class. “A jute mill in Howrah was closed on Monday, rendering its 4,300 employees jobless, even as the high court was delivering its directive. What will its employees do tomorrow' Will they not take to the streets to voice their grievances'” asked Sunil Sengupta, RSP secretariat member, warning that they would protest this “unjustified” ruling.

Even backward classes welfare minister Upen Kisku, also a CPM leader, said that the judiciary cannot scuttle “spontaneous public protest” by banning rallies. Referring to Wednesday’s controversial tribal rally, Kisku, who oversees tribal welfare, said: “For tribals living in forests, weapons are a part of life. They do not carry weapons to harm others.”

SUCI secretary Pravas Ghosh said they would lodge their protest against the high court ruling. “We will violate the law and court arrest under Section 144 CrPC, if required,” he warned.

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