Explainer: No rath yatra for BJP in Bengal as SC closes for winter

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an urgent hearing of BJP’s petition challenging the Calcutta High Court order which prohibited the party’s “rath yatras” in West Bengal. The top court, which is now closed for winter vacation, has scheduled the plea in the normal course in its registry, sources said.

Seeking permission for the political rally since the beginning of December, the BJP had hoped that this hearing would accord them the lease to the rath yatras, that had been scheduled to begin on December 7 and were expected to be flagged off by national party president Amit Shah ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The ruling Trinamool Congress state government has, however, been vehement in their refusal, despite a Calcutta High Court order allowing the rally last week. This order has become the bone of contention, especially after the Division Bench of the same court recently overturned it.

Here’s what the single-judge bench said

On December 13, a single-judge bench of the High Court had set aside a notification by the TMC government, allowing the state BJP to three rath as part of the “Save Democracy Rally” on December 15.

Dismissing the threat to public order that TMC had claimed should the rallies take place, Judge Tapabrata Chakraborty said that in order to deny permission to a political rally, the threat “must be real, not imaginary or a likely possibility”. He also said that the saffron party would be held “vicariously liable” for any loss of life or destruction of property caused in course of the rally. It should organise the rallies in close conjunction with the superintendent of police of the 3 districts concerned, the court had further observed, besides abiding by traffic regulations and following every directive by the state government.

What did the division-bench have to say about this?

The division bench comprising Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and Justice Justice Shampa Sarkar had also asked the single-judge bench of Justice Chakraborty to review the case afresh and consider cogent intelligence inputs by state agencies before taking a decision.

Here’s what had happened before

The BJP sought intervention by the Calcutta High Court after the state government did not respond to their request to the yatra.

On December 6, a single-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court had refused the party permission to hold the roadshow, following which the BJP approached the division bench, which asked the state Chief Secretary, Home Secretary DGP to hold a meeting with three representatives of the BJP and arrive at a decision by December 14.

Earlier this month, the state’s senior intelligence officials had met BJP leaders after much coaxing and delay, only to deny permission based on the account of likely disturbances and possible communal flare-ups in the Coochbehar district.

West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh reported that the party had filed a caveat with the Supreme Court on December 15, further claiming that the TMC-led state government had still not responded to requests for a meeting over the series of rath that were supposed to have begun on December 7.

Aggrieved by the culmination of events, the BJP first approached the Division Bench which stayed Judge Chakraborty’s order on Friday December 14. After the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC flatly refused to acquiesce to the court directive to respond followed by this stay order, the BJP was pushed to move top court.  

About the rally

As part of the election campaign, BJP chief Amit Shah was to travel to the state this month and inaugurate the party’s “Save Democracy Rally” covering all the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal, ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Three rath were scheduled to take part in this mega-roadshow, from Coochbehar, Kakdwip and the Tarapith temple in Birbhum district.

The BJP had sought a meeting with state authorities on October 29 to discuss the rath’s possible routes and three AC buses had already been brought in from neighbouring BJP-ruled Jharkhand, suggesting that the party was confident the yatra would happen even without an official confirmation.

BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who had travelled all the way from Delhi to speak to the DGP, dismissed claims that the rath yatra would fan communal tension. “Not a single incident of riot has taken place in Bengal due to any BJP rally or programme. The allegations against us are completely baseless,” he had said at the press conference on December 16.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Rath yatraWest Bengal