‘What’s the Purpose of Elections When People Cannot Celebrate Peacefully?’ Calcutta HC on Ram Navami Violence

Ram Navami Violence

Expressing dissatisfaction over the violence during the recent Ram Navami celebrations in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, the Calcutta High Court questioned the purpose of conducting elections when people cannot peacefully celebrate an occasion for eight hours.

The court suggested the possibility of proposing a deferment of the Lok Sabha polls in the Baharampur constituency.

The Bench

During the hearing of two petitions seeking Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) probes into the clashes on April 13 and 17 in the constituency, a division bench comprising Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya remarked that if two groups are engaged in conflict while the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in force, they do not need any elected representative as the election may exacerbate the problem.

While these observations were made verbally during the hearing, the written order stated that the court would decide on the investigation approach after receiving an affidavit on the progress of investigations from the West Bengal government. The court instructed the state to submit the response by April 26, the next hearing date.

Who Filed the PILs?

The Public Interest Litigations (PILs) were filed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) Kolkata area convenor Amiya Sarkar and the regional convenor of Muslim Rashtriya Mancha (MRM), West Bengal and Sikkim, S A Afzal.

During the hearing, the bench also suggested “making a recommendation to the Election Commission of India that when individuals are unable to peacefully celebrate an occasion for eight hours, they shall not be entitled to elect their representatives to the parliament, thereby suggesting the deferment of the election to the Baharampur constituency.” The court asked, “What is the purpose of conducting elections when two groups of people cannot reconcile themselves to a six or eight-hour program? If individuals cannot coexist in peace and harmony, we will countermand the elections. We will assert that the Election Commission shall not hold parliamentary elections in this district,” said the court, expressing dissatisfaction with the events in Murshidabad.

The Chief Justice noted that, according to news reports, around 33 programs were conducted on Ram Navami in Kolkata without any untoward incident.

The court was informed that the first incident occurred at Kamnagar under Beldanga police station on April 13, followed by another at Saktipur on April 17. Both petitioners agreed that this was the first instance of violence during Ram Navami in these areas of Murshidabad and questioned whether outsiders were involved.

While the VHP requested an NIA investigation, the MRM sought probes by the CBI and NIA into the incidents.

In the order, the division bench directed the West Bengal government to submit a report in the form of an affidavit at the next hearing. It stated that state and central investigating agencies could file separate affidavits if desired.

The bench observed a peculiar feature in the case where both petitioners contended that violence during Ram Navami was unprecedented in these areas.

Representing the state, senior counsel Amitesh Banerjee informed the court that the state CID had taken over the investigations into the April 13 and 17 incidents and mentioned that the clashes were triggered by minor incidents.

The bench questioned the actions of the police and central forces during the incidents in Murshidabad district when the MCC was in force. The state’s counsel mentioned the presence of central forces, prompting the court to inquire about their role.

Representing the central government, Assistant Solicitor General Asok Kumar Chakrabarti stated that the central forces were on patrol duty and not directly involved in crowd control.

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