West Bengal: HC asks BJP to postpone rath yatra; party threatens to move SC

west-bengal-rath-yatra BJP workers prepare flags ahead of the party's rath yatra in Cooch Behar, West Bengal | PTI

In what comes as a setback for the BJP, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday refused to grant permission for the party to hold a massive rath yatra (chariot procession) in West Bengal. The court decided to hold the next hearing on January 9 to give its final verdict on the matter. It also asked the state government to furnish details of the security measures to be taken for the yatra which is expected to be attended by a host of national leaders, including party chief Amit Shah.

The court decision has cast a shadow the BJP chief's visit to the state as well as the proposed visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for holding rallies across the state from December 16. The grand, month-long chariot procession of the saffron party was set to begin from Friday from four places. The processions were supposed to converge in Kolkata later this month. Senior BJP leaders, including Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were expected attend the yatra. BJP delegation from various states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and the northeast, were to come to West Bengal to participate in the processions.

The government argued that Cooch Behar district—bordering Assam—which was one of the four places from where the yatra would begin, is a sensitive area. It also reminded the court that in a recent incident of violence in Uttar Pradesh, a policeman was killed.

The government informed the court that it would be unable to offer proper security for the processions across the state. "The state government would not be able to provide security to several lakhs of people, many of who would be coming from other states," advocate general Kishor Dutta told the court.

Dutta cited an intelligence report whichsuggested the possibility of communal violence owing to such processions.

The Calcutta High Court wanted to know if the procession could be deferred as there is little time for the government to make the necessary security arrangements for the event. The BJP refused to postpone the event saying all the preparations have been done for the event and the permission of the government was sought well in advance.

Justice Tapobrata Chakraborty asked the BJP's counsellor if the party would take the responsibilities for casualties in the event of violent incidents. As he maintained the silence, the court ordered postponement of the yatra.

In the wake of the court's decision, the BJP said it is ready to go to the division bench of the Calcutta High Court and would even move the Supreme Court over the issue.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said an emergency meeting has been called to decide about the future course of action. "But rath yatra will happen. We will go to Supreme Court if necessary and we are sure we would get justice," he said.

The BJP said it had earlier sought permission from director general of police and superintendents of police in the districts concerned for holding the rallies. "But despite repeated requests, the government refused to give us permission. Then we knocked the door of the governor. He too failed to get us a nod from the government," said Ghosh.

On December 3, the BJP had moved the court, seeking permission.

Interestingly, even as the state government opposed the procession in the court, the Trinamool Congress was planning parallel rallies against chariot procession. At Cooch Behar, the TMC leadership was intending to to take out a procession for which roads would be "cleaned with cow-dung water". In Birbhum, the party was planning to counter the BJP rally with kirtan rallies.

"So the chief minister tried to match our every effort with her own dose of politics. Simultaneously, her government fought in the court saying that DG would not be the right authority to decide on granting permission. But she would not be able to prevent us," said Ghosh.