The Calcutta High Court on Friday (24 November) granted permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to proceed with a political rally scheduled for 29 November near Victoria House in Kolkata.
This decision overruled objections raised by the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led State government, as indicated in the case of State of West Bengal vs Jagannath Chattopadhyay.
Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, comprising the division bench, deemed the West Bengal government's denial of permission for the BJP rally on two occasions as arbitrary.
According to Bar and Bench, the court observed that the BJP's general secretary, Jagannath Chattopadhyay, had submitted the rally application well in advance.
The court also highlighted that the TMC consistently utilised the rally site near Victoria House at Kolkata's Esplanade for its meetings, specifically on 21 July, to observe the 'Martyrs Day' and commemorate the death anniversary of 13 party workers.
"You see your advisory. It says one can apply within two to three weeks. They applied within time. You are unnecessarily trying to precipitate a problem. Either you allow them or else we can do one thing, we will ban the annual 21 July rally too. No rally, no event, no protest. We will ban everything. The solution is, let everybody be treated equally. This action of yours is arbitrary," the Chief Justice said.
While the State argued that the BJP rally could cause public inconvenience, the bench noted that such rallies, protests, and political meetings were common in West Bengal, particularly in Kolkata.
The court questioned whether the advisory of the Kolkata police against rallies on short notice or in certain areas was effectively followed by organisations aligned with the ruling dispensation.
The court further emphasised that giving undue importance to the event by protesting against its conduct only served to make it more popular. The division bench upheld the order of Justice Rajasekhar Mantha, who had earlier allowed the BJP to hold the rally on 29 November.
This incident is not the first time the High Court has criticised the State for disallowing political rallies, emphasising the need for a level playing field for all political ideologies in the state.
Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.
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