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'What if people die?' Calcutta High Court stalls BJP rath

The BJP has lined up several rathyatras to 'save democracy' in Bengal

By Our Legal Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 7.12.18, 3:49 AM
  • Updated 7.12.18, 7:35 AM
  • 2 mins read
BJP president Amit Shah addresses a press conference in Jaipur on Wednesday. PTI

Calcutta High Court has withheld permission for a march that was being described as a “rathyatra” by the BJP, whose president Amit Shah was scheduled to flag it off in Cooch Behar on Friday.

“Who will take the responsibility if incidents of death occur due to the proposed rally?” Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty asked in the order.

Lawyers for the BJP rushed to Chief Justice Debasish Kargupta and later said a division bench headed by him was scheduled to take up their appeal on Friday morning. High court sources said on Thursday night that since Chief Justice Kargupta would not be able to attend court on Friday, the matter would be heard by another division bench, headed by Justice Biswanath Somadder.

BJP sources said Shah would arrive as planned in Cooch Behar on Friday and take part in a public meeting. The court’s restriction applies only to the march or rathyatra, not the meeting.

The single-judge bench of Justice Chakraborty took the decision after a report from the Cooch Behar superintendent of police feared “causalities” and “disruption of communal harmony in the sensitive district” because of the march. The court did not use the word “rathyatra” but referred to it as a “rally”.

The BJP has lined up several rathyatras, lasting around 40 days and some converging on Calcutta, to “save democracy” in Bengal. The marches were to be complemented with four meetings by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including a grand finale on the Brigade Parade Grounds in Calcutta in February.

The rathyatra programme, seen as an attempt at mobilisation in the run-up to the general election, is political but the undertones associated with the rathyatras of the 1990s that culminated in the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya 26 years ago have fuelled fears of polarisation along their routes.

On December 4, advocate Saptangshu Basu had moved the BJP’s petition alleging that the administration had not responded to its application seeking permission for the rathyatra.

Justice Chakraborty’s order said: “This is not merely a daylong rally. The rallies will cover all the 23 districts of the state and will continue for long 43 days. So far, the report from only one SP has reached this court. Without verifying the reports of SPs of all the districts, the court should not allow the BJP to hold its rally.”

The judge advised the BJP to ask its chiefs in the other districts to approach the respective SPs for permission to hold the rallies.

The court acknowledged that “every party has the right to organise rallies, meetings, street corners and other movements. But it is also a fact that the state has to maintain law and order.”

The judge added in his order: “In my opinion, the BJP should defer its rathyatra programme at least till January 9 (the next day of hearing).”

BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya later said: “We are exploring options like the division bench of Calcutta High Court or the Supreme Court.”

Justice Chakraborty asked the BJP to file an affidavit within seven days challenging the report filed by the Cooch Behar SP.

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