With uncertainty over rath yatra, Bengal BJP launches plan B

With uncertainty looming over its grand rath yatra in West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched its plan B: agitations and protests by leaders across the state.

“The fate of the yatra will be decided by the courts. Meanwhile, we’ll be holding our Ganatantra Bachao Andolan (movement to save democracy) in every block. And if a block denies us permission, we will organise protests and law violation programs”, BJP Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh said on Monday.

The law violation will consist mainly of gheraos of offices of district officials and police chiefs, said Ghosh, who led the first such agitation in Arambag in Hooghly district on Monday.

On Tuesday, similar protests will take place in Jhargram town in Jhargram district, and Barasat and Bongaon in North 24-Parganas district. On Wednesday, protests will be held in Balurghat of South Dinajpur district and on Friday, in Rampurhat of Birbhum district.

To take stock of the situation after uncertainty clouded the rath yatra’s fate, five state leaders including Ghosh and management committee in-charge Mukul Roy will meet the party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and others in New Delhi on Tuesday.

On Monday the BJP filed a writ petition in a single bench of the Calcutta high court against Saturday’s decision of the Mamata Banerjee government not to allow the yatra.

In the petition, the party said it would launch its three rath yatras from Cooch Behar, Gangasagar and Tarapeeth on December 22, 24 and 26, respectively. The matter is slated to be heard on Tuesday.

However, political analysts pointed out that BJP’s programme has become uncertain as the high court will remain closed for Christmas vacation between December 24 and 31 and the state government looks to be in no mood to give in without fighting it out in the division bench and the Supreme Court.

While this is likely to take the whole of January, a ban on microphones will come into effect from February 9 to March 13, due to state board exams in schools.

“The yatra looks very unlikely before end-March. BJP underestimated Mamata Banerjee’s shrewdness and are paying for it. Without the yatra, the BJP will never be able to whip up as much enthusiasm as they would have with it,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.

Chakraborty argued that with this one move, the Trinamool Congress has ensured that it gets Muslims votes in bulk and further corner the Left and the Congress, that have traditionally been the recipients of Muslim votes in various parts of the state. Muslims are believed to make up about 30% of Bengal’s electorate (about 27% in 2011).

While Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, Abdul Mannan, supported the state government’s denial of permission, CPI(M) central committee member Rabin Deb criticised the government for paving the way for publicity for BJP.

“The government should have given permission to the yatra but not allowed it in certain sensitive pockets. Instead, the government offered some lame excuses, giving the BJP the chance to polarise opinion,” said Rabin Deb.

Political analyst Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College, echoed Deb. “The government should have ignored the BJP’s yatra. By denying permission, the government has given the BJP the chance to launch a wider campaign against the lack of democratic space and to even gain public sympathy,” he said.

First Published: Dec 17, 2018 19:53 IST

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