The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The knight on the white horse comes in different guises, but the harassed citizen is becoming quite used to glimpses of him in dusty, crowded courtrooms. The judge, Mr Amitava Lala, has determinedly tried to put a stop to the enormous disruption caused in everyday city life by rallies and processions. The court has ruled that there will be no more rallies in Calcutta on weekdays between eight in the morning and eight in the evening. Rallies can be held only in fixed spots at times outside the marked hours. Calcutta’s disgraceful tradition of indiscipline caused by rallies, processions, sit-ins and demonstrations is quite unmatched. It had seemed for a while that the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was serious about changing the reputation of the city of processions. The promises turned out to be empty ones, because no political party, least of all Mr Bhattacharjee’s own, was willing to give up what it considered a basic right. Political parties in the city feel that the strength in numbers can only be demonstrated by completely destroying the discipline of city life, making it impossible for anyone to go anywhere, even if it be to hospital, and generally causing distress. Quite possibly, they feel that by making people’s lives difficult, they are proving their ability to hold the city in their power. So far, therefore, nothing worked, not even the reiterated disapproval of the courts.

Mr Lala’s court, it is to be hoped, has at last made a difference. Although the police were the object of his wrath, there is no doubt that the real target of the admonition are the political parties. As long as the police are compelled to accommodate the rallying wishes of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — the department is under the chief minister — there is very little they can do about other parties, groups and organizations claiming the same rights of disruption. Penalizing the members of the less influential groups is the best they can do. The irony of the situation was made most evident when, last week, the chief minister himself was at the centre of a public meeting that brought central Calcutta to a standstill. A concrete line of action may help, but successful implementation — if that happens — will show results only after a while. All’s well if it ends well, no doubt, but such quick action may have eluded suffering Calcuttans had Mr Lala and some of his colleagues not been caught up in an impossible traffic jam on a three-rally day last week. It is wonderful that knights have horses to ride. An old gentleman missing his train because of a rally, for example, would have taken a long time to induce such action.

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