The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Let this be the convention

Calcutta, Oct. 8: Today’s Left Front convention did not hold up Central Avenue, leave alone the rest of the city. Few Calcuttans will complain against such a political programme.

Despite the sparks that lit up the CPM-spearheaded “mass convention” inside Mahajati Sadan against the high court ruling on rallies, the streets outside were just as the citizen would like them to be — and the judiciary would approve of.

True to Tuesday’s promise, the audience trooped in neat queues or small groups into the meeting that tried to establish a link between the recent Supreme Court and Calcutta High Court orders on strikes and rallies and the BJP-led Centre.

No vehicle was commissioned by the Party to bring the Faithful. Neither was there any procession of the type that prompted Justice Amitava Lala to exile rallies from work-day Calcutta.

Consequently, there was no traffic dislocation outside. At the worst of times, the south-bound lane was constricted as the convention spilled out of the auditorium, but traffic never stopped moving. Inside, speaker after speaker — none more vitriolic than Jyoti Basu — pilloried the judiciary. From “weakening democracy” to “siding with capitalists and the Union government”, the judiciary was guilty of many crimes.

Basu led from the front before state CPM secretary Anil Biswas balanced things somewhat, clarifying that the Left combine was not against the judiciary or any of its members. But everyone said everything would be done to frustrate the judiciary’s effort to discipline rallies.

“How can one man take away our rights to protest' And how can people go on having any respect for the judiciary after all this'” Basu asked, referring to the high court ruling and the recent Supreme Court verdict saying government employees have no fundamental right to strike.

“Someone should go and ask this judge what’s going to happen in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary polls,” he added, without referring to Justice Lala by name. Daring the judiciary to implement its verdict, he wondered aloud whether “Anil (Biswas) would be arrested” for contempt after newspapers reported the convention.

Despite the apparent loss of faith and “respect” in the judiciary, there were enough hints that the next battle would be legal. “We may have to go to the Supreme Court but we are frightened of the consequences,” Basu said.

There was one note of worry, too, that brought into focus the government-party dichotomy the front faces. “If we take out rallies without informing amader sarkarer (our government’s) police, they may face problems,” Basu said.

Rallies planned by front organisations next week stay on course, though.

Front chairman Biman Bose tried to establish a direct connection between the Supreme Court and the high court verdicts by calling them “politically linked”. But, simultaneously, he tried to project the front as being “responsible” enough to limit its bigger rallies both spatially and temporally.

“We confine them to the Brigade Parade Grounds and the smaller ones to Shahid Minar and Rani Rashmoni Avenue. Besides, not one of them in the recent past was on a working day,” he said, not forgetting to tell his comrades to allow right of way to the “ill (even if they were not in ambulances)”. But those seeking to catch a train or a plane have to start early, he said.

Biswas said: “We recognise that free movement is a fundamental right, as also the right to protest peacefully.”

“One right cannot undermine another and only the government can ensure a balance with political parties’ cooperation,” he felt.

No one will disagree with that.

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