The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Police permit, politicians play

Calcutta, Sept. 25: A day after being ticked off by the judiciary for allowing the city to be paralysed by rush-hour rallies, police tried to shift the onus to politicians.

Justice Amitava Lala handed a contempt notice to the police yesterday after getting stuck in traffic for over 30 minutes as a rally was given right of way.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, senior officers said they would be able to restore order if the government allowed them to act tough with politicians. “We will try and explain to the judiciary that taking up the matter with the order-giving politician will bring order to the streets,” said an officer.

But the argument did not explain what led the traffic department to permit three rallies within a kilometre of each other around the same time.

The rally by the Adivasi Socio-Educational Council, which held up Justice Lala and forced Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta to walk, was scheduled for 11 am on Rani Rashmoni Avenue. This did not prevent the police from green-signalling the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association rally at 10 near Wellington Square, less than a kilometre away. another rally, by an organisation representing the scheduled castes near B.R. Ambedkar’s statue, within sniffing distance, was also given the go-ahead at 10.

“We were caught on the wrong foot,” admitted an officer. “But it’s pointless to ask us to restore order when the chief of the executive flouts the basic tenets of civil society,” he added, referring to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s show-stopper on Monday.

The chief minister’s party, of course, thinks he did nothing wrong. CPM leader Biman Bose said: “He has always said that Rani Rashmoni Avenue, Shahid Minar and the Brigade Parade Grounds can be used for rallies. He kept to his word.”

Nice as it is to know that the chief minister is a man of his word, how a rally at Rani Rashmoni Avenue — in the middle of the city centre — on a Monday can be called less disruptive than the procession of tribals is a little more difficult to appreciate.

The police say they can’t act because of the politicians and the politicians believe the situation is as it should be — never mind that Justice Lala called it “unfortunate”.

Nothing needs to change then, except that come Monday, the police will have to give an explanation to the judge and the police also happen to be the chief minister’s responsibility.

What if the police are asked why they can’t arrest the chief minister if he is disturbing life' Or refuse him permission to hold a rally on a working day at the city centre'

“There’s no denying that we can refuse permission to organisers of smaller rallies,” an officer said. “But we do not do anything because we feel that our hand will be stayed.”

Perhaps, it was this hard-on-the-weak-but-soft-on-the-strong attitude that led the police to “penalise” the smallest of Wednesday’s rallies — the teachers’ — for the disruption caused mainly by the tribals. Some teachers were detained till late night, but no tribal leader was arrested.

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