In a first, Bengal govt enforces Section 144 to stop BJP’s pro-CAA rallies
In a first since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) triggered a series of protest, including a few violent ones, the state police have enforced prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CrPC) to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from holding two back-to-back rallies since Sunday.
Cases have also been registered against BJP leaders for violating the orders. Both incidents have taken place in the north Bengal region where the BJP wrested all the Lok Sabha seats from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2019, taking the party’s tally from two seats in Bengal to 18. Of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, TMC won 22, mostly in south Bengal.
On January 12, BJP Bengal unit general secretary Sayantan Basu and the party’s Cooch Behar district unit president Malati Rava Ray were stopped on their way to the district’s Sitalkuchi where they were scheduled to hold a pro-CAA rally that the BJP had christened Abhinandan Yatra.
“We were told by the administration that restrictions under Section 144 had been imposed in anticipation of unrest. We went ahead and held a meeting where we were stopped. We will move the Calcutta high court against this tactics of the government. The TMC cannot muffle us. They are scared of the BJP and possibly hallucinate that our presence will lead to some kind of war,” said Basu.
On Monday, while preparations were on for another Abhinandan Yatra in the Malgalpur area of adjacent South Dinajpur district, Basu and Bengal BJP Yuva Morcha (youth front) president Debjit Sarkar were stopped by police and told that people were not allowed to assemble as Section 144 was in force.
“A huge crowd had already assembled. The administration passed the order after we arrived. Nobody said a word since morning when a dais was set up, chairs were laid and microphones installed,” said Basu.
A case was registered against Basu and Sarkar when they blocked a road and held a meeting at another location close to the district administration’s office. “The restrictions were imposed because we were anticipating law and order problems,” said Dhiman Mitra, deputy superintendent of police.
The TMC hit back at the BJP saying the saffron party should first control its belligerent state unit chief who recently made inflammatory statements.
“Maintaining law and order is the responsibility of the administration and it has to do its job. Before accusing the state of using Section 144 against it, the BJP should first control its own state president who talks of shooting protesters. BJP has never been stopped from holding meetings and processions,” said minister of state for parliamentary affairs and senior TMC leader Tapas Roy.
On Sunday, BJP’s Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh had said that those damaging government properties were killed “like dogs” in states ruled by his party. That comment drew wide condemnation.
The BJP is not the only party to be shackled by prohibitory orders. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has run into the same obstacle.
“The TMC government has not spared the Marxists either. They enforced Section 144 in quite a few districts to stop our programmes. We, however, did not violate most of those orders,” said CPI (M) legislator Sujan Chakraborty.