Calcutta high court on Thursday refused permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party for holding a 'Rath Yatra' in Coochbehar, which was to be flagged off by the party president Amit Shah on Friday, after the West Bengal government refused to allow the event saying it may cause communal tension.
The Bharatiya Janata Party decided to put on hold Shah's proposed rally and the Rath Yatra, saying it will wait for the final order from the high court, which will now hear an appeal by the saffron party on Friday morning.
Single bench judge Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty directed that the rally stands deferred till the next date of hearing on January 9 and observed that the prayer of BJP for permission for it cannot be granted at this stage.
Appearing for the state, Advocate General Kishore Dutta told the court that the rally will create communal disharmony and submitted to the judge a report in a sealed cover, which he said delineates apprehensions of disturbance to peace and communal disharmony by intelligence agencies.
The court directed superintendents of police of all districts in West Bengal to file a report before the court on holding of Rath Yatras, peremptorily by December 21, after hearing all the district presidents of BJP.
Immediately after the order was passed, lawyers for the BJP went to the chamber of Chief Justice Debasish Kargupta and prayed for constitution of a special bench for hearing its appeal on Thursday evening as the normal court hours had ended for the day, party lawyer Phiroze Edulji said.
The Chief Justice refused to constitute a special bench and asked the BJP lawyers to move the appeal before the court on Friday morning at 10.30 am, he said.
The saffron party had scheduled three Rath Yatras in West Bengal which are to pass through all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
In New Delhi, the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of running a ‘dictatorship’ in the state and alleged her government refused the permission as she was busy playing ‘politics of appeasement’.
The BJP campaign, which the party has named 'Save Democracy Rally' and has projected it as a ‘game-changer’ in Bengal politics, was scheduled to begin from Coochbehar district in the north on December 7, from Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas district on December 9, and from Tarapith temple in Birbhum district on December 14.
The BJP told the court the rallies will converge and culminate in Kolkata by January 16.
Noting that the rallies will take place for over a month covering all districts, the court asked, "Can the mere undertaking of an advocate that the rallies will be peaceful be enough to allow?”
"If something happens, who will be responsible?" Justice Chakraborty asked whether it will be possible to make security arrangements within the short time of less than a day.
The BJP's counsel said a number of applications had been given to the state authorities from October 29 but it had sat on them only to inform in court on Thursday that permission for the rally at Coochbehar was refused.
To this Justice Chakraborty asked the BJP counsel, "If a common man dies today, will your district president be responsible?"
The court is concerned about the safety of the people, he said. BJP counsel Anindya Mitra submitted that a division bench of the high court had in January allowed another set of motorcycle rallies by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha after putting certain conditions and prayed that similar order be passed in this case also.
Justice Chakraborty said the situation in which the earlier order was passed is not similar and that the BJYM rally was for only seven days.
The AG told the court that the Coochbehar SP has refused permission for the rath yatra.
He said the district has a history of communal issues and that there was information that some ‘communal provocators and rowdy elements have become active’ there and expressed apprehension of breach of peace.
The SP had said several top BJP leaders would come to Coochbehar, as also people from other states, and this may affect the communally-sensitive district.
The AG said the refusal of permission was an administrative decision in view of the ground situation and ‘details of apprehension’ cannot be spelt out in open court due to their sensitive nature.
Asked by the judge as to who will take responsibility if anything untoward happens, Mitra submitted that the party will hold a peaceful rally but it was the duty of the state government to maintain law and order.
The BJP counsel submitted that the Constitution guarantees the right to hold political programmes and that assumption of untoward situation cannot be a ground for refusal. When the judge asked if he was agreeable to deferment, Mitra answered in negative and said the party had started preparations a long time ago and had approached the administration for permission in October itself.
In Coochbehar, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said that BJP is a ‘responsible political party’ and it will obey the court order.
"Our entire preparation for the Rath Yatra program is complete. Amit Shah is also ready to come tomorrow," he told a press conference.
There was disappointment in the BJP camp after the court order, leaders said, adding massive arrangements were made for the Rath Yatra, which would be a ‘game changer’ in West Bengal politics.
Bengal BJP president's vehicle attacked, party blames TMC
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh's vehicle was attacked on Thursday at Sitalkuchi area of Coochbehar district by unidentified miscreants.
Ghosh is in the district to take part in the scheduled 'rath yatra'. He was attacked when he was on his way to Mathabhanga in the district.
"Trinamool Congress leaders attacked my car and shouted slogans demanding that I should go back. Some of my party workers were injured during the violence.
"The police were watching merely as mute spectators," he said after the incident at Sitai More in Sitalkuchi.
Senior TMC leader Rabindranath Ghosh termed the allegation as baseless and said the attack was a fallout of infighting in BJP.
The district police administration said they are looking into the incident.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, also the president of the Trinamool Congress, was busy playing ‘politics of appeasement’ and that is why her government blocked programmes of Shah and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat earlier.
"We are often forced to move court for seeking permission. Courts reprimand the state government every time, but she does not learn her lessons because she is busy with politics of appeasement," Patra told reporters at a press conference.
She is running a dictatorship, he alleged.
Shah, he noted, has said that the BJP will win 26 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.