Lepcha said he had approached the concerned authorities on April 11 for permission to hold a public meeting on April 15 at Sumeru Manch in Chowk Bazaar, but the returning officer declined even though the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha was granted permission for that same day and venue.
Talking to reporters, the GRC candidate said, “On April 6, I had applied with the Darjeeling municipality for permission to hold a public meeting at Sumeru Manch and it was granted. After that, I submitted an application to the chief electoral officer on April 11 for permission to hold the meeting at the venue on April 15 from 10am to 1.30pm. But the returning officer rejected my request on the grounds that doing so would create a law and order situation.”
|Gorkha Rashtriya Congress|
The reply to the online application in SUVIDHA, under No. 57/SUVIDHA/23-Darjeeling and dated April 11, 2016 by the sub-divisional officer, who is also the returning officer, cites apprehension by the police department of a possible breakdown in the law and order situation if the GRC was permitted to hold a meeting on Friday.
The IC Sadar police has remarked: possibility of “disruption of law and order in event of holding meeting is apprehended”.
The GRC alleged it was a ploy of the state government to stop the party from reaching out to the people with its Darjeeling- Sikkim merger agenda, which is starting to gain popularity with the people.
“How come the GJM, the TMC and other big parties are allowed to hold meetings? Will that not create law and order situations or cause traffic problems? Denying us permission is just an excuse to deprive us of our fundamental rights and a level playing field,” said Lepcha.
Subodh Pakhrin, chief coordinator of the GRC, also lambasted the state government for denying an equal playing field to the party in the election. “Democracy does not only mean numbers and mandates. It is important that the rule of the land should be made equal to all. We will write to the Election Commission about this. Our party may be small but our issue is not,” he said.
Meanwhile, returning officer Avik Chatterjee refuted the GRC’s allegation saying no disparity has been made. “The GJM has also sought permission to hold a meeting on April 15 at Sumeru Manch and its application was submitted before that of the GRC. The timing sought clashed too and the GRC also did not provide an alternate venue compelling us to deny permission,” he said.
According to official reports, the GRC submitted its application on April 11 at 3.14pm and the GJM at 1.42pm, with the latter seeking a timeslot from 2pm to 5pm. As per existing rules, permission for public meetings is granted to candidate or parties whose applications reach first, and in this case it was the GJM application which was entertained.