Calcutta, Sept. 30: The people overwhelmingly support Justice Amitava Lala’s ruling on rallies, but politicians are moving in the opposite direction.
An opinion poll conducted for The Telegraph by TNS Mode in Calcutta showed 88 per cent of the respondents — working adults, students and housewives — back the ruling restricting rallies in the city to holidays or between 8 pm and 8 am on weekdays.
Marking a sharp difference with popular will, Bengal’s administrative and political establishments scurried from one brainstorming session to another to block the order.
A copy of the order had not yet reached Writers’ Buildings but the government is likely to move court tomorrow whether it does or not. Wednesday is the last day a vacation bench is sitting to clear cases before the Pujas. It will sit again on October 8.
Although law minister Nishith Adhikari was careful not to commit himself to a date, he too made it abundantly clear that the government might not wait till the reopening.
“A headache does not mean that you chop off the head,” he said at Writers’ Buildings, showing which way the wind was blowing there.
The Opposition Trinamul Congress moved first but failed to get permission to appeal against the ruling from a bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A.K. Bannerjee.
Justice Lala had a normal day in court, hearing cases and asking photographers to leave him in peace.
But, in a measure of the flutter his ruling has created in the government, M.K. Singh, the deputy commissioner, traffic, declined to act as the vehicle for its appeal against the ruling. Singh said he had been cleared of the contempt charges Justice Lala had slapped after being stopped by traffic policemen for a rally to pass and did not wish to get involved in a legal battle.
As of now, Singh’s job is to enforce the court order, which says rallies cannot be held between 8 am and 8 pm on weekdays. On holidays, they can be organised only at three points in the city.
Organisers of at least one rally were refused permission today. Until, if at all, the government gets a stay — or has the order overturned — the police will be bound to decline permission unless the conditions of the ruling are met.
A copy of the verdict is likely to reach Writers’ Buildings tomorrow and the government believes any delay in appealing will be seen as “legitimising” the decree.
Several meetings were held to shape the government’s response in court (see chart for likely line of argument). But the fact that few in the government wanted to mess with the court was made clear by Singh’s refusal.
The ruling drove a wedge through the CPM as well. Some believed accepting a “popular” verdict would appeal to the public psyche but they were dismissed by others who reminded them of the approaching Lok Sabha polls that would necessitate multiple rallies daily.
In the opinion poll, 84 per cent of the respondents believed that there were other ways to protest than holding rallies and meetings, disagreeing with the politicians’ argument.
As much as 57 per cent felt that those who take part in rallies are often paid to do so. The same proportion thought participants join out of fear.
Faith in the police is low and in politicians even lower. Fifty-three per cent said the police would not be able to take action against violators of the ruling. Political parties will find a way of holding rallies, felt 85 per cent.
Both indicate a high level of cynicism about the enforcement of the ruling. Not without reason. All three key political parties were as dismissive of the results of the opinion poll as they have been about the ruling.
CPM leader and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said: “Such opinion polls are of no value. When political parties hold rallies, they do it in the larger interest of the people. Our party and the government have decided to appeal against the order and I support it.”
Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said those who are supporting the order are doing so “hastily”. “When these same people are subjected to some oppression where will they go to protest'” he asked.
Banerjee, however, did not support the government’s move to appeal. “Let the people decide what is good for them,” he added.
“I feel that the opinion poll is the result of a temporary burst of emotion,” said Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not available for comment. But he might be interested in at least one finding of the opinion poll: 75 per cent said investments would go up if the ruling was executed.
And only 23 per cent said without rallies and bandhs their Calcutta would be dull.