In what appeared to be yet another rap in the knuckles of the Mamata Banerjee administration, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday imposed an interim stay on all forms of police investigation into the National Anthem ‘insult’ case against BJP MLAs and questioned whether the anthem is being used by the ruling dispensation as a political weapon to frame the Opposition.
The direction, issued by Justice Joy Sengupta, was a step forward from the same court’s previous order where the judge had called the police case against the BJP MLAs “juvenile” and had granted an interim stay on any coercive action against the accused till December 7 following an appeal by Shankar Ghosh, BJP legislator from Siliguri, and others to quash the FIR against them registered by Kolkata Police in the wake of a complaint lodged at the Hare Street police station after 11 MLAs were summoned for questioning at the Lalbazar city police headquarters.
The stay on investigation would remain in force till January 17, 2024, the judge ordered.
The Trinamul had alleged that the singing of the National Anthem during the party’s protest programme at the base of the Ambedkar statue on November 29 was disrupted by the BJP. The ruling party alleged that some BJP MLAs led by leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari, who were part of a simultaneous anti-state government protest rally a few metres away at the Assembly portico, named Mamata Banerjee and started shouting “chor chor (thief thief)” slogans, and thus insulted the anthem inside the Assembly compound.
During the course of the hearing earlier this week, Justice Sengupta had said that since the version of the BJP MLAs on the sequence of events did not match with that of the Trinamul MLAs, it was important to ascertain the exact sequence and, accordingly, directed the police to submit the CCTV footage from the Assembly premises to find out what exactly happened during the face-off.
Examining the CCTV footage presented before the court from November 29 on Thursday, the judge observed that the visuals only showed the Trinamul MLAs and did not capture the activities of their Opposition counterparts. “How would the BJP legislators be listening to the National Anthem if we can’t even see them in a single frame?” Sengupta questioned.
Upon being informed by Advocate General Kishor Dutta that the footage of the BJP legislators was likely to be found on a different camera, the judge observed: “There doesn’t seem to be any prima facie evidence in support of the allegation against the BJP leaders.”
The court questioned whether the National Anthem is sung as a mark of respect for the country or used as a vehicle to frame others. Reminding the court that special circumstances guide the singing of the National Anthem, Sengupta observed: “With both sides shouting slogans, how can one be certain as to whether there was a deliberate insult meted out?”
“If an indisposed individual is lying in his bed and he suddenly gets to hear the National Anthem being played somewhere, is he expected to jump out of his bed and stand in attention?” the judge asked.
What seemed to be a extension of the judge’s observation from the previous hearing where the court advised the state to focus on issues "far more serious like rape and murder" rather than spend money and resources on such “juvenile” matters, Sengupta obliquely questioned the pro-activeness of the police in the case. “I am hearing a case where the mother of a CRPF jawan with 90 per cent disabilities was attacked by miscreants and set on fire and where the police allegedly refused to lodge an FIR. Yet the police, in this case, seem to be only too happy to initiate an investigation,” Sengupta said in court.
The matter would be heard again on January 10 next year.