New Delhi: The Calcutta High Court on Thursday refused permission to the BJP for holding a 'Rath Yatra' in Cooch Behar, which was to be flagged off by party president Amit Shah on Friday.
The court’s decision came after the West Bengal government refused to allow the event saying it may cause communal tension.
The BJP decided to put on hold Shah's proposed rally and the Rath Yatra, saying it will wait for the final order from the high court, which will now hear an appeal by the saffron party on Friday morning.
Single bench judge Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty directed that the rally stands deferred till the next date of hearing on January 9 and observed that the prayer of BJP for permission for it cannot be granted at this stage.
The West Bengal government told the court that it refused to give permission for the proposed ‘rath yatra’ on grounds that it might cause “communal tension”.
The state government further told the court that the district has a history of communal issues and that there was information that some communal provocators and rowdy elements had become active there.
The Superintendent of Police's refusal letter also noted that several top BJP leaders would come to Cooch behar, as also people from other states, stating that these may affect the communally sensitive district.
The court directed superintendents of police of all districts in West Bengal to file a report before the court on holding of Rath Yatras, peremptorily by December 21, after hearing all the district presidents of BJP.
Immediately after the order was passed, lawyers for the BJP went to the chamber of Chief Justice Debasish Kargupta and prayed for constitution of a special bench for hearing its appeal on Thursday evening as the normal court hours had ended for the day, party lawyer Phiroze Edulji said.
The saffron party had scheduled three Rath Yatras in West Bengal which are to pass through all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
In New Delhi, the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of running a "dictatorship" in the state and alleged her government refused the permission as she was busy playing "politics of appeasement".
The BJP campaign, which the party has named 'Save Democracy Rally' and has projected it as a "game-changer" in Bengal politics, was scheduled to begin from Cooch Behar district in the north on December 7, from Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas district on December 9, and from Tarapith temple in Birbhum district on December 14.
The BJP told the court the rallies will converge and culminate in Kolkata by January 16.
Noting that the rallies will take place for over a month covering all districts, the court asked, "Can the mere undertaking of an advocate that the rallies will be peaceful be enough to allow? "If something happens, who will be responsible?"
Justice Chakraborty asked whether it will be possible to make security arrangements within the short time of less than a day.
The BJP's counsel said a number of applications had been given to the state authorities from October 29 but it had sat on them only to inform in court on Thursday that permission for the rally at Cooch Behar was refused.
To this Justice Chakraborty asked the BJP counsel, "If a common man dies today, will your district president be responsible?"
The court is concerned about the safety of the people, he said.
BJP counsel Anindya Mitra submitted that a division bench of the high court had in January allowed another set of motorcycle rallies by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) after putting certain conditions and prayed that similar order be passed in this case also.
Justice Chakraborty said the situation in which the earlier order was passed is not similar and that the BJYM rally was for only seven days.
In Cooch Behar, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said that BJP is a "responsible political party" and it will obey the court order.
"Our entire preparation for the Rath Yatra program is complete. Amit Shah is also ready to come tomorrow," he told a press conference.
There was disappointment in the BJP camp after the court order, leaders said, adding massive arrangements were made for the Rath Yatra, which would be a "game changer" in West Bengal politics.