The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal on Saturday refused permission for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s proposed Rath Yatra, citing intelligence reports of possible communal violence in areas where the party was planning to take out the yatra ahead of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled next year. BJP president Amit Shah was to kickstart the campaign titled ‘Save Democracy Rally’ from the Cooch Behar district in North Bengal on Friday, from Kakdwip in the South 24 Parganas district on December 9, and from Tarapith temple in Birbhum district on December 14. The ‘rath yatra’ was scheduled to cover all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, where the party aims to bag over 22 seats in the general elections next year. The BJP currently has two Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal --- Asansol and Darjeeling.
In a letter to state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, the West Bengal government said it was unable to allow the yatra as intelligence reports indicated that “in several districts, organisations with overtly communal agenda, such as the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, would actively join the yatra. There is a grave apprehension of major breach of peace... during and after the yatra”, the state government said in the letter.
Reacting to the development, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya criticised the Trinamool Congress government’s decision and said his party would move a higher court against it, while Ghosh termed the decision “totally undemocratic.”
The BJP moved a division bench of the Calcutta High Court after a single-judge bench of Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty refused permission to the party to hold the yatra. The division bench had on December 7 directed the West Bengal chief secretary, the home secretary and the director general of police to hold a meeting with three representatives of the BJP by December 12 and take a decision on the ‘rath yatra’ by December 14.
Following the meeting between the two sides, state government officials had told the BJP that the decision will be conveyed to them by Saturday.
In the letter to the BJP, the West Bengal government said, “The areas proposed to be covered by the yatra are, because of publicity and propaganda, gradually turning into communally sensitive pockets. Intelligence reports indicate that public perception is that the religious overtones of the yatra will be turned into communal propaganda.”
In the letter, the government has mentioned that intelligence inputs were obtained from district magistrates, commissioners of police, superintendents of police and the assessment of the Intelligence Bureau on the routes proposed by the BJP for the yatra.
The large number of convoys in the Yatra would create a chaotic situation and cause traffic disruption on arterial roads and highways, the government said.
“Furthermore, during the period cited, major festivals and events are scheduled, and it required a heavy deployment of the resources of the government, including the police force,” the letter read.
According to the yatra schedule submitted by the BJP, there were plans to hold 158 meetings across West Bengal and the three segments of yatra would cover religious sites. The yatras would continue simultaneously for at least 34 days.
The government said, “We are therefore of the opinion that, for the reasons which have been elaborately mentioned... it is not possible to allow the yatra as proposed by the BJP.”
The state government, however, said permission for any particular meeting would be decided solely by the district authorities on a case-to-case basis.
“Therefore, for each meeting proposed, the BJP may apply afresh before the relevant district authorities with all required details,” it said.
BJP national president Amit Shah was to kickstart the campaign titled ‘Save Democracy Rally’ from Cooch Behar district on December 7, from Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas district on December 9, and from Tarapith temple in Birbhum district on December 14.
The ‘rath Yatras’ were to cover all the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies of West Bengal.