For a future chronicler of one of India’s significant public interest cases, seeking to end Calcutta’s infamous rally raj, it would be important to record the timing.
Precisely at 12.10 pm, reality came crashing down on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s quintet of legal eagles. Grim-faced, they listened to the senior of the two justices of a Calcutta High Court division bench pronouncing the “unexpected setback” to the government’s efforts to retain the right to rally, any time, any where, any day.
Allowing a minor concession — puja immersion processions — Justice Alok Chakraborty and Justice Shubhrakamal Mukherjee forwarded the government’s petition for a stay on Justice Amitava Lala’s ruling to a regular bench on the reconvening of the high court from Puja vacation after October 27. Till then, absolutely no rallies, they said.
Seconds after the verdict, the government’s top-drawer legal team, led by advocate-general Balai Roy, rose in a body and made its way through the crowd in court room no. 8.“We have nothing to say, please let us pass,” was all that Roy would say. The four others — government pleader Rabilal Moitra, Tripura advocate-general Tarun Roy, advocate on record A.K. Chatterjee and assisting lawyer Haridas Das — nodded in agreement.
The news of the setback soon reached the men who matter most. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was in Salt Lake, from where he held a quick discussion on the phone about what had gone wrong and how the situation could be salvaged. On the other end of the line was law minister Nisith Adhikary.
For Adhikary, Thursday’s development was a personal blow because only on Monday, after Justice Lala’s rein-rally verdict, chief minister Bhattacharjee had given him the carte blanche — “Nisithda, tell us what the government should do in this situation”. Adhikary spent nearly the whole of Tuesday in high court, priming the legal guns for a possible showdown on Wednesday.
Both Bhattacharjee and Adhikary had laid great store by Roy and his team, which was assisted by no less than a dozen lawyers in the backroom. Until Thursday morning, the government’s legal eagles were eyeing a possible rally reprieve.
But all that changed just after noon. By Thursday evening, Calcutta’s legal and political circles were abuzz with why the government’s efforts collapsed. “Many of us knew the collapse was coming, but the decision-makers chose to be blind to it,” commented a senior legal practitioner. “They (the defence) made one blunder after another, in and outside the courtroom.”
One such blunder, another senior counsel opined, was not to move the division bench with the appeal — an oral petition — for revision on Monday itself. Since Justice Lala’s trial bench was in session for the next 24 hours, the government counsel could have asked the division bench, headed by Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, to call for the records from the trial bench and stay the judgment.
Another blunder was to misread Justice Lala’s suo motu contempt notice on the deputy commissioner of police (traffic) and the subsequent decision to have the case handled by a relatively junior advocate, A.K. Chatterjee.