The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beijing budges, but Buddha does not

Calcutta, Oct. 1: Even China is changing, but not its Bengal comrade.

By a strange coincidence, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for political reform in response to new realities as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s CPM-led government moved to protect practices that have lost public support.

In a challenge to Justice Amitava Lala’s order prohibiting rallies in the city between 8 am and 8 pm on weekdays, the government today moved Calcutta High Court’s two-judge vacation bench for a special session in the middle of the Puja holidays. Tomorrow, the bench will hear its appeal.

For a government that took over two decades to decide on the correct language policy for primary students, this represents lightning-fast action, coming within two days of Justice Lala’s order.

It has taken China 54 anniversaries since Mao Zedong announced formation of the people’s republic to speak the D-word and the E-word together. Last night on anniversary-eve, Hu, the party general secretary, called for a bigger public role in government and “democratic election”.

The word election may not mean China will allow opposition parties but it does signal a move towards political reform . And it may even mean that some day rallies by other than the communist party will be allowed.

To allegedly protect this “democratic right” to rally, Hu’s self-proclaimed fellow travellers in India said they would go to any lengths to have the order overturned.

“We will go on appealing till there is a reversal of the high court order,” CPM politburo member Prakash Karat said in Delhi.

In Calcutta, his party’s government despatched to court its full-strength legal team to challenge the order which has found wide public support.

A few minutes to 11 am, advocate-general Balai Ray led advocate-on-record A.K. Chatterjee and Calcutta High Court government pleader Rabilal Maitra into room no. 8. As if this display of legal muscle were not enough, the advocate-general of Tripura, Tarun Ray, too, was drafted in.

The division bench of Justice Shubhrakamal Mukherjee and Justice Alok Chakraborty first said the court would be convened on Friday (Ashtami) to hear the appeal but then advanced it by a day after considering the urgency with which the government was pursuing the case.

Yesterday, a similar appeal from the Opposition Trinamul Congress to hear a petition against the order was turned down by another bench, of which the chief justice was a member.

Tomorrow’s appeal is seen to be the government’s last defence against Justice Lala’s ruling, officials said.

If the government does not succeed in convincing this bench about how “democracy would be smothered” without rallies, there is little chance that it will be able to get its point across to the Supreme Court, known for its anti-disruption verdicts, the officials explained.

Taking no chances, the government moved as many as four petitions in the five minutes that the division bench spent on the case today.

First was the appeal for leave to file a petition to challenge the order, the second the actual petition that contested the order, the third sought an interim stay and the fourth asked for a special session of the vacation bench to hear the pleas “as soon as possible”.

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