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CM rallies in Gandhi name

Calcutta, Dec. 23: If Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru could do it, why can’t the CPM-backed co-ordination committee of sarkari babus'

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has in the past railed against rallies on weekdays, today sought to justify the powerful state government employee organisation’s golden jubilee rally at the Brigade Parade grounds next Wednesday by citing meetings addressed by Gandhi and Nehru during the freedom movement.

“Even Jawaharlal Nehru held a rally at the Brigade grounds in 1942. Mahatma Gandhi has also addressed meetings here,” he said.

Although formal permission from the army has not yet been issued, it is “expected tomorrow”, a senior official said. The army had first said it would not allow any more rallies on the Maidan in pursuance of a court order that made it the custodian of the greens, but gave in under political pressure.

The rally is bound to litter the Maidan and bring the city to a standstill on a working day ' consequences that the court has frowned upon in the past. Rallyists will converge on Brigade in processions from different parts of the city.

Possibly with an eye on the Assembly elections which are a few months away, the chief minister chose to side with the committee whose members are an important part of the CPM’s election machinery. “This is not a fascist state. Ours is a democracy and people here have the right to protest,” Bhattacharjee said.

What public cause the committee is going to promote he did not mention.

“There are strikes even in cities like New York and Paris. People all over the world are raising their voice. We’re not alone,” he added.

Yesterday, Bhattacharjee had spoken to defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, urging him to grant the clearance after the army in Calcutta refused permission.

Earlier, the organisation’s general secretary, Jyoti Prasad Basu, had threatened to bring the city to a standstill by holding his “mammoth rally” on Rani Rashmoni Road.

Today, unmoved by the fact that even a rally at the Brigade grounds could create a traffic nightmare on a weekday, the chief minister said: “What difference does it make' Traffic is in a mess every single day.”

No one is going to dispute his comment that traffic is in a mess, but nor would anyone agree that a rally does not make a difference.

Environment activist Subhash Dutta, who had filed a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court to protect the Maidan from rallies, said he was “alarmed” by the attitude of politicians.

“The army was right in refusing permission. But now it seems a political decision has forced them to grant it,” he said. “But our job is to stop all rallies on the Maidan. We should start work afresh.”

Officials said the army would not charge any caution fee either for Wednesday’s rally or for the one being organised by the CPM on January 8.

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