On the face of it, it is the people who should be enthused, and not the parties and politics in the Bengal court. A Division Bench of Calcutta High Court (coram: Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, CJ; and Arijit Banerjee, J) has banned rallies and processions that “block thoroughfares anywhere in Bengal”. Should the government have the political will to enforce the order, as passed on Thursday, it would signify a critical, albeit horribly belated, reversal of Jawaharlal Nehru’s appellation, specifically that Calcutta is a “city of processions”.
That praxis of agitprop has only been reinforced over time in the competitive anxiety of the political class to inconvenience the people ~ theoretically the bedrock of support on election day. The order has been pronounced a little over two months before the present ruling party’s Martyrs’ Day rally on 21 July when the entire city and its peripheral areas are turned upside down.
No less disruptive, even damaging in terms of environmental pollution, are the occasional CPI-M rallies on Brigade Parade Ground. The order has been couched in the caveat that doesn’t put too fine a point on it ~ “Though the organisers have a fundamental right to hold a peaceful rally, they do not have the right to curb the right to free movement of other people and traffic.” The Bench has thus drawn a fine distinction between what is trumpeted as a “democratic right” and disrupting the city.
Quite the most disruptive is the almost inevitable arterial block on CR Avenue; the cascading effect can be felt across the city and suburbs and till a very late hour of the day.
Hence the directive to the administration to ensure that movement of traffic is never disrupted on any “artery “. The Bench is explicit on certain parameters ~ part of the road must be “left open” for people and traffic; the right to free movement of a citizen is a fundamental right under Article 19(1) D of the Constitution; and that the government can ask a party to hold its rally on weekends or holidays.
Regretfully, in the perception of the parties a rally cannot be “fruitful” unless the city is thrown out of joint. That bizarre perception is perilously skewed and across party lines.
Thus it was that on Friday, in the immediate aftermath of the court order, central Kolkata and beyond were thrown out of gear by a Left Front rally. The actual raison d’etre for a rally or procession gets overshadowed by the near-total disruption. Even the order of Kolkata’s Police Commissioner on 1 June 2017, banning rallies and/or processions in College Street on weekdays, has been a non-starter.
All parties have a finger in the pie. Thursday’s judicial intervention calls for stringent action in the follow-through. Imperative therefore is a consensus evolved by the government and the political parties. They owe it to the people.