The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Have a party, hire a state bus

Calcutta, Jan. 12: Wrongs frequently committed would look right. Or so Subhas Chakraborty suggests.

A day after The Telegraph reported how the CPM had commandeered thousands of state and private buses for its rally last Sunday paying next to nothing, the transport minister invited all other political parties to follow the same route, provided they were chasing a “social cause”.

Rules permit the Calcutta State Transport Corporation to hire out its buses for a “social cause” at a discount of up to 50 per cent, the rate the CPM was offered.

“I would not mind letting out our buses at discounted prices to even Trinamul Congress or BJP,” Chakraborty said, insisting that the January 8 rally was held for a “social cause”.

His statement is a throwback to the blanket permission offered by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee when he was cornered on the army’s volte-face on refusing to allow a rally by a CPM-affiliated government employees’ organisation at Brigade Parade Grounds.

After overturning the army’s denial of permission, Mukherjee had announced that all parties or organisations would be allowed to hold rallies at the Brigade.

Chakraborty displayed the same two-wrongs-make-a-right disease. Going by the speeches by CPM leaders at the January 8 rally, his claim of pursuing a “social clause”, entitling the party to a 50 per cent discount on the bus hire rate, is questionable. The speeches had only one objective: prepare the cadre for the coming Assembly polls.

If it is acceptable to take hundreds of publicly owned buses off the streets and deny people access to transport to hold a rally, it is not surprising Chakraborty considers an election campaign opener to be a “social cause”.

“I know what is a good social cause when I see one,” said Chakraborty.

“The government is trying to confuse the public,” said former Calcutta high court justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee. “A political party organises processions or rallies for political gains. There is no way a rally can be interpreted as a social event or cause. The CPM would do well to go through the Preamble to the Constitution which defines these.”

On January 8, the CPM hired nearly 400 state buses and commandeered some 6,500 private buses. While the government was a willing accomplice in getting for the party state buses, private bus owners were mostly arm-twisted into parting with their vehicles.

While little is paid to private bus owners, for state buses the party is forking out some money. Ordinarily, CSTC lets out a bus for Rs 2,500.

The CPM is paying Rs 1,200 for each bus.

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