Bengal rules out rath yatra but may allow public meetings, fuming BJP to discuss legal options

The government’s decision came eight days after a Calcutta high court division bench directed the government to sit with a team of BJP leaders and discuss the Ganatantra Bachao Yatra (rally to save democracy) that was originally scheduled to start on December 7.
Empty chairs seen at a piece of agricultural land besides NH-31 at Jhinaidanga, decked up for Bharatiya Janata Party’s rath yatra, in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India, on Friday, December 07, 2018. The Calcutta High Court on Thursday denied permission to Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) to hold a rath yatra, which was to be flagged off by party president Amit Shah from Cooch Behar on Friday. (File Photo)(HT File Photo)
Empty chairs seen at a piece of agricultural land besides NH-31 at Jhinaidanga, decked up for Bharatiya Janata Party’s rath yatra, in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India, on Friday, December 07, 2018. The Calcutta High Court on Thursday denied permission to Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) to hold a rath yatra, which was to be flagged off by party president Amit Shah from Cooch Behar on Friday. (File Photo)(HT File Photo)
Updated on Dec 15, 2018 11:22 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By

The tussle between Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party over the latter’s rath yatra programme intensified on Saturday evening when the state government informed state BJP leaders that it will not allow the proposed 42-day tour of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha constituencies and allow public meetings only if fresh applications are made.

The three-page fax message from the state secretariat left Bengal BJP leaders fuming.

The government’s decision came eight days after a Calcutta high court division bench directed the government to sit with a team of BJP leaders and discuss the Ganatantra Bachao Yatra (rally to save democracy) that was originally scheduled to start on December 7.

“The who’s who of BJP’s national leadership would have attended our Ganatantra Bachao Yatra but the government denied permission,” Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said on Saturday night.

When BJP first announced the programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah were scheduled to address at least six public meetings.

“We received a communication from the administration. It said permission for the yatra is being denied. They have asked us to apply to district administrations for public meetings to be attended by our national leaders. However, since the public meetings were part of the yatra, we are exploring legal options,” Ghosh said.

BJP state vice-president Pratap Banerjee said the letter, signed by the chief secretary, home secretary and director general of police, said permission for the yatra is being denied because the government apprehends that it may disrupt communal harmony.

“They have cited various clauses for denying permission, of which probable harm to communal harmony is the most prominent one,” Banerjee said. “Our state unit will discuss legal options with the national leadership on Sunday”.

“The letter says that organisations such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may join our programme and that may lead to law and order problem. This is politically motivated. We clearly mentioned in our letter to the government that it is a peaceful political programme. These organisations have no links with political programmes of BJP,” Banerjee said.

According to the state government’s letter, “the areas proposed to be covered by the yatra are, because of publicity and propaganda, gradually turning into communally sensitive pockets. Intelligence reports indicate that public perception is that the religious overtones of the yatra will be turned into communal propaganda. Intelligence reports also indicate that in several districts, organisations with overtly communal agenda such as the RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP would actively join the yatra. There is grave apprehension of major breach of peace and communal harmony during and in the aftermath of the yatra.”

The letter also said that the yatra has been scheduled in the middle of a festive season when the state will be preoccupied with security for these festivals. Major festivals in the coming days include Christmas and Gangasagar fair.

On Thursday, state chief secretary Malay De, home secretary Atri Bhattacharya and director general of police Virendra met Dilip Ghosh, BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Lok Sabha election management committee’s head for Bengal, Mukul Roy, at the headquarters of Kolkata police. The court had asked the administration to inform BJP of its decision by Saturday.

“We’ll fight it out in court and on the streets. We will seek justice from the judiciary and the people. The government’s attitude has vindicated the title of our yatra. It has been proved that there is no democracy in Bengal,” said Ghosh.

No Trinamool leader in Bengal was willing to comment on the development.

“It’s an undemocratic decision. Every political party has the right to take out processions. Mamata Banerjee has proved again that she does not want to give space to opposition parties,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, principal correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, has been covering politics, socio-economic and cultural affairs for over 10 years. He takes special interest in monitoring developments related to Maoist insurgency and religious extremism.

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