Oct. 29: Bengal is again bracing for its occasional tryst with lawlessness as two political parties prepare themselves to shut the state down on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But this time, the Supreme Court has issued a coincidental but timely reminder: the state and the citizen have enough powers to try and avert assaults on freedom that pass themselves off as popular protests.
The apex court has sent a contempt notice to Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi for defying a bandh bar.
Another notice asks Union minister T.R. Baalu to explain why he shouldn’t be punished for contempt for imputing motives to the court’s September 30 order restraining Tamil Nadu’s ruling alliance from enforcing the October 1 bandh.
That order had drawn a sharp line between strikes — which were aimed at specific organisations or institutions — and “complete” shutdowns. The distinction had robbed political parties of their usual ploy of dubbing shutdowns “strikes” to flout a 1998 apex court ban on bandhs.
Mamata, however, said on Saturday: “I’m sticking to what I said. All activities in the state would come to a halt on October 31. Parishkar Banglaye, oidin baro ghantar jonyo Bangla ke achal kore dewa hobe (in plain Bengali, the state will be brought to a standstill for 12 hours that day).”
The SUCI will try to achieve the same result a day earlier, although its strength on the streets isn’t comparable to the Trinamul Congress’s.
Not that today’s action by the court has had much impact on Mamata’s party. Trinamul MLA Saugata Roy said: “The contempt notice has been issued against the Tamil Nadu government and does not necessarily apply to us. If such a notice is issued against us, we shall appropriately handle the matter.”
Bengal home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray said the government would take all steps to maintain normality on October 31.
But ruled by a combine that has perfected the art of bandhs, Ray’s machinery is unlikely to initiate pre-emptive action the law requires a government to take when someone publicly threatens to disrupt life.
That leaves only the individual, who will have to invest considerable amount of money and time to fight against the arrogance of politicians and the apathy of the state.
But the judiciary did do its bit today. Keeping accountability in mind, the Supreme Court has issued contempt notices also against the Tamil Nadu transport minister and three bureaucrats after the Opposition ADMK told the court the state government had “deliberately, wilfully and wantonly” enforced the bandh. None of the accused needs to be present in the court for now.
The ADMK counsel argued that Baalu, a Union minister from the DMK, had imputed motives to the judges with a speech that amounted to “scandalising the court”.
When the additional solicitor-general, appearing for Karunanidhi, tried to make a submission, the court said: “We want to know what your CM and transport minister have done.”