The Madras High Court on Friday accepted the reasons cited by the police for having denied permission to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) route march at over 50 places across Tamil Nadu on October 2. It, however, made it clear that the police should grant permission for the route march as well as public meetings on November 6.
Justice G.K. Ilanthiraiyan said he was not inclined to take immediate action against the officials for having denied permission in defiance of a September 22 court order, because they had cited seven intelligence reports with respect to possible communal tensions in the wake of the crackdown on the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Muslim organisation.
Nevertheless, ordering that the permission be granted for the route march on November 6, he warned of severe action if there was any defiance of this order, too. The judge made the observations while passing interim orders on a contempt of court petition filed by a RSS functionary against the police officials for disobeying the September 22 order.
The petitioner, G. Karthikeyan, had accused the police officials of having willfully disobeyed the court order to grant permission. Senior Counsel G. Rajagopal, N.L. Rajah and S. Prabakaran contended that the police were bound to obey the court orders and should not be allowed to invent reasons when it was their duty to maintain law and order.
“This is willful, deliberate and wanton disobedience of court orders,” Mr. Prabakaran argued, while Mr. Rajagopalan said the Centre had banned the PFI across the country but no other State had prevented the RSS march. Mr. Rajah questioned how a route march to celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi could not be allowed in Tamil Nadu alone.
Countering the submissions, Senior Counsel N.R. Elango and State Public Prosecutor Hasan Mohamed Jinnah denied the charge that the government was preventing the celebrations. Stating that October 2 had its own sanctity, Mr. Elango said it was an irony that the RSS wants to celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi who was assassinated by Nathuram Godse.
Pointing out that the RSS had cited not only Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary but also B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, which fell on April 14, for wanting to conduct the route march on October 2, the Senior Counsel said, “Their intention to conduct the march on that particular day is not these, but something else.”
He went on to state that the circumstances on September 22 were different and that was the reason why the police officials told the court that they would consider the request for permission. However, after the National Investigation Agency raided the PFI premises in the State, the situation turned tense.
Violent incidents were reported across the State with petrol bombs having been hurled on a few RSS and BJP functionaries. Subsequently, the Centre banned the PFI under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and there were intelligence reports of the action igniting communal tensions.
Referring to the legal maxim salus populi suprema lex, which meant that the safety of people is the supreme law, Mr. Elango said, “We cannot discard central intelligence reports.” He also stated that the law and order situation differed from State to State and and therefore permission granted in one State could not be cited to seek permission in another.
Mr. Jinnah said that after the receipt of the intelligence reports, over 52,000 police personnel had been deployed to maintain law and order and kept on alert across the State to prevent any disturbance to public peace. He pointed out that no other organisation had been permitted to take out any procession on October 2.
After their submissions, the Senior Counsel representing the RSS functionaries submitted a list of four alternative dates when the organisation could be permitted to take out the route march and the judge ordered that the march be allowed on November 6. He kept the contempt petition pending and directed the Registry to list it again on October 31.