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Not completely opposed to RSS route marches: Tamil Nadu tells SC

Granting the prayer of senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the state government, a bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mittal deferred the hearing till March 17

Not completely opposed to RSS route marches: Tamil Nadu tells SC

NEW DELHI: The Tamil Nadu government told the Supreme Court on Friday it is not completely opposed to allowing the RSS' route marches and public meetings across the state on March 5 but cited intelligence reports to say these cannot be held in every street or locality.

The state government sought some time to come up with a list of routes for the march.

Granting the prayer of senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the state government, a bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mittal deferred the hearing till March 17.

Rohatgi said the state will try and work out a solution and decide the routes it wanted the processions to take by then.

"The idea is not to ban the processions but it needs to have some conditions," he said.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the RSS, said the state has allowed similar events by organisations like the 'Dalit Panthers' but the RSS was being singled out for harsh treatment.

The RSS, he said, was allowed to conduct marches in six districts which it did. However, it has been asked to hold the event in enclosed spaces in 42 places.

"In the areas where we were allowed, we went ahead and there was no law and order problem. Now, they say that the PFI has been banned by the central government and it is a threat (to RSS events). They are not able to control a terrorist organisation and that is why they are banning us. I cannot exercise my right. Can this be a ground?" Jethmalani said.

Jethmalani said that on March 5, the RSS is not going to hold the march anyway and, if the state wants time, there is no difficulty.

"We are not going to do anything till at least March 10 or 12, even a week later if my friends want,'' he said.

At the outset, Rohatgi told the bench that though the state has challenged the order dated February 10 of the high court allowing the route march, it is not totally opposed to the events.

"However, the march cannot be held in every street and every mohalla (locality). We have considered the situations of every locality. We have some intelligence reports. We have border areas with some history of disturbances, like there were bomb blasts. We have said that it cannot be done in absolute fashion in areas like Coimbatore.

"The Popular Font of India (PFI) has been banned. So, we said don't do it in disturbed areas in the open but do it in enclosed compounds," he said.

Responding to Rohatgi's contention, Justice Ramasubramanian said when he was a judge in the Madras High Court, he had passed orders for processions in cases involving the RSS and an organisation was dead against allowing such events.

"I had passed a similar order like it is passed now by the High Court," he said, adding, "One is language of democracy and one is language of power. Which language you speak depends on where you are ".

Rohatgi added the high court had said let the marches be held wherever the RSS wanted.

"Maintenance of law and order is up to the state. They (the RSS) cannot have a carte blanche order to hold marches in whatever areas they want. We have given the list of areas with disturbances in a sealed cover to the high court," he said and read out the single-judge bench order of the high court which allowed RSS processions with some conditions.

Rohatgi asserted nobody can say he has a vested right to hold processions in every street of the state and the state plea cannot be shut out on grounds of technicalities.

"Now the problem is that they are to hold the procession on March 5, two days before Holi. This court may protect me for a few days. I am not fully opposed to the procession but on the manner in which it is supposed to be done," he submitted, adding the court may post the matter after a few days. He said it is not that March 5 is a sacrosanct day and that he will submit some relevant documents to the court.

The state government, in its plea before the top court, said the route march will pose a law and order problem and sought a stay on the high court order.

Setting aside the order passed on November 4, 2022 by a single judge bench which had imposed conditions on the proposed state-wide route marches asking the RSS to hold the events indoor or in enclosed space, a division bench had restored the order dated September 22, 2022 which directed the Tamil Nadu police to consider the RSS' representation and grant permission to conduct the programmes without conditions.

Accordingly, it had directed the RSS to approach the state authorities with three different dates of their choice for the purpose of holding the route march/peaceful procession and the state authorities were asked to grant permission to them on one of the chosen dates.

Also, the RSS was asked to ensure strict discipline and make sure there is no provocation or incitement on their part during the marches.

Challenging the single judge order, the RSS had sought a direction to the authorities to permit their members to hold the procession wearing their uniform throughout the state.

The organisation had earlier sought permission for the route march to commemorate the 75th year of Independence, the birth centenary of Bharat Ratna B R Ambedkar and Vijayadasami festival on October 2, 2022.

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