The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left, Right on same side of bandh war
Congress lends lone voice of dissent

July 24: Sworn rivals are speaking in one voice. Only the Congress is with the court.

A day after Bombay High Court fined the BJP and the Shiv Sena for calling a bandh last year, parties cutting across the political divide slammed the ruling.

Only the Congress welcomed the verdict, though cautiously. “Political parties must not disrupt civil life while organising public protests,” party spokesman Anand Sharma said.

“They should act with responsibility and ensure that the normal life of citizens is not disturbed. All parties must draw appropriate lessons from the court ruling.”

But Left parties and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress were unanimous in their criticism. The Left termed the decision to impose a fine of Rs 20 lakh each on the BJP and the Shiv Sena an effort to “throttle democracy” while Mamata said she was determined to go ahead with the August 2 Bengal bandh her party has called, “come what may”.

“Organising bandhs and strikes are inherent and inalienable rights of the people in a democratic polity which are enshrined in the Constitution,” CPM Bengal secretary Anil Biswas said. “Any move to curb these rights either by the judiciary or the administration is nothing but an attempt to strengthen the autocratic forces in the country.”

Biswas said legal experts were being consulted on whether to move the Supreme Court.

The CPM politburo has urged the Centre to enact a law to protect the rights of people. “The right to organise strikes, bandhs or hartals was enjoyed by the Indian people even during British rule,” it said in a statement.

CPI state secretary Manju Majumdar said the high court order was “dangerous”. “The judiciary is clearly encroaching on democratic rights; this may have a terrible fallout,” he said.

The Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, joined the chorus and said it would launch a movement to mobilise public opinion against the judgment. General secretary M.K. Pandhe said: “We do not know for what purpose the BJP-Sena organised the bandh, whether it was for a wrong cause, it is the democratic right of the people to organise protest actions.”

Mamata said the judgment would not come in the way of the August 2 strike. “I will be happy to go to jail for calling the bandh. This is a legitimate tool to voice our protest against the anti-democratic practices of the CPM,” she said.

“We are ready to bear the consequences.” Trinamul has called the bandh to protest the introduction of the Block Level Pre-litigation Conciliation Board Bill by the Left Front government.

BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “We believe that in a democracy, political parties have the right to protest the anti-people policies of a government through demonstrations, bandhs and dharnas.

“Protests are a pillar of the edifice of democracy. If the right to protest is curtailed, it amounts to an attack on democracy.”

The Janata Dal (United), another NDA constituent, said it was a “typically bourgeois reaction” to say that bandhs disrupt “normal civil life”.

In Calcutta, Supradip Roy and Idris Ali — the two lawyers who had earlier petitioned the high court against bandhs — said they had been approached by several organisations to move court against the August 2 bandh.

“I have asked them to file civil suits after August 2 demanding compensation from the bandh organisers. The Bombay High Court judgment can then work as a precedent in their case,” Roy said.

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