The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM builds case, holds rally fire

Calcutta, Oct. 3: Angry words like “undemocratic” flew today from CPM leaders who sat to work out a strategy against Justice Amitava Lala’s order restricting rallies, but the party rejected for the moment an arrogant proposal to defy the court order.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, charged by the people who elect him to keep the city moving, pressed for a mammoth rally going by the grand name of mahamichhil. The leadership told him to tarry.

It was decided instead to moot the proposal at a Left Front meeting tomorrow. “Do you think the current situation allows room for individual action'” Chakraborty was asked, possibly in view of the howl of protests the order has evoked in almost all parties.

“I think individual, or collective, protests against such a shocking order are urgently called for,” he replied.

The leadership would not want to rush into any such move because, aside from its implication by way of defiance of the judiciary, the involvement of the CPM’s highest bodies like the politburo and the central committee has taken the issue beyond the state party.

Most of today’s meeting was concerned with scripting Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s line of argument against the order, which prohibits rallies between 8 am and 8 pm on weekdays, once the court reopens on October 27 after the Puja vacation.

The government would argue that the order would come into conflict with the Constitution which “guarantees freedom of speech and allows a citizen the right to hold rallies or strike work to articulate a protest or convey popular sentiments”, CPM officials said.

“It will be a forceful appeal, the purpose of which is also to find out whether an elected government is bound to follow the directive enshrined in the Constitution or a court order.”

The leadership did not appear to be aware of the Supreme Court observation that freedom of movement is also a fundamental right, which Justice Lala’s order seeks to protect without in any manner taking away the right to protest.

Politicians of all colours are misrepresenting the order to suggest it is stripping citizens of the right to protest. Calling the directive “undemocratic”, CPM leader and Left Front chairman Biman Bose said: “The established rights to assembly and expression of speech will be curbed.”

That is incorrect because the order allows rallies to be held between 8 pm and 8 am even on weekdays and without time restriction on holidays with the sole condition that traffic should not be disrupted.

The practice in many parts of south India of holding rallies only in evenings was discussed, the officials said, hastening to add that “this point was rather below the line of the principal discussion, nothing very serious”.

Bhattacharjee, who was present at the meeting, only said: “Sorry, no comment, we have not yet got a copy of the court order.”

Chakraborty proposed to organise 100,000 marchers drawn from various walks of life as well as political affiliations to bring the city to a standstill in the peak hours of a weekday, as if his ability to do so has to be proved all over again.

He may have to wait at least until after the court reopens.

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