The Andhra Pradesh government has prohibited all meetings and rallies on state and national highways, municipal and panchayat roads and road margins.
The state Home Department issued the prohibitory order (GO 1) late on Monday, 2 January, even as TDP scion Nara Lokesh was preparing for a 400-day padayatra called Yuva Galam, or Voice of Youth.
Jana Sena supremo Pawan Kalyan was also planning a state-wide tour on a specially designed vehicle, Varahi.
TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu had a series of roadshows and meetings scheduled for the coming days as part of the party’s various campaigns.
Incidentally, Pawan Kalyan cancelled his programmes and left Visakhapatnam after the police issued him a notice in November.
The YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP government decided to prohibit rallies and other events on roads after two separate stampedes in Naidu-attended events killed 11 people, including five women.
While eight people were killed in a stampede during Naidu’s roadshow at Kandukur on Wednesday, 28 December, three women died in another mad rush in Guntur on Sunday, 1 January.
Terming the government order “Black GO”, the TDP demanded the government withdraw it immediately.
The GO might adversely affect the roadshows and meetings planned by Naidu, Pawan Kalyan and Lokesh.
What does the order say?
The order, issued under the provisions of the Police Act, of 1861, cited public safety for banning roadshows and rallies.
The government noted in the order that “the right to conduct a public meeting on public roads and streets is a subject matter of regulation as Section 30 of the Police Act, 1861, itself mandates.”
“It is therefore ideal that no licence be granted for any application seeking permission to conduct a meeting on State Highways and National Highways,” the order added.
The GO No 1 also said alternative locations for such congregations would be available at public grounds and “the applicants may also be suggested to locate alternative private places for the purposes of such meetings in order to mitigate hardship to the people at large”.
“In rare and exceptional circumstances and for reasons to be recorded in writing, any application could be considered,” GO added.
In the GO, Principal Secretary (Home) Harish Kumar Gupta asked the respective district administration and police machinery to identify “designated places away from public roads for the conduct of public meetings”, which would not hamper traffic or movement of the public.
The order also pointed out the difficulties in effectively controlling the crowd at roadside meetings and the last-minute venue changes that would create further hardship. The GO also mentioned the Kandukur incident.
Related: Publicity mania led to stampede, says Jagan
TDP feels the heat
Soon after the GO was issued, the TDP went into a huddle and brainstormed to evolve a strategy for the successful conduct of Lokesh’s padayatra.
Lokesh was scheduled to start his padayatra from his pocket borough, Kuppam in the Chittoor district on 27 January. The TDP has decided to whip up public opinion against the GO.
“It’s a clear conspiracy by the government to stifle the opposition, especially the padayatra by Lokesh. The ruling party is feeling the jitters with the kind of response from the public to the TDP’s campaign like Idhem Kharma Mana Rashtraniki and Naidu’s roadshows. That’s why the chief minister is resorting to such tricks,” a source close to Naidu told South First.
Currently, Naidu has plans to visit his home constituency Kuppam in the next three days. Sources in the TDP said that his programmes were being rescheduled in the wake of the prohibitory order.
The immediate effect would be felt on Naidu’s Kuppam tour. The Palamaner police issued notices to his staff seeking the details of the public meetings. The notice said that the organisers would face action if the provisions of GO No 1 were violated.
Related: Ex gratia for kin of stampede victims
Jagan’s yatra to power
Roadshows, street corner meetings and other public meetings had formed an integral part of YSRCP supremo Jagan Mohan Reddy’s 3,648-km padayatra, named Praja Sankalpa Yatra, which took him to the chief minister’s office in the 2019 polls.
He addressed at least 124 public and 55 community meetings during his padayatra.
It was estimated that Jagan had interacted with more than two crore people, constituting close to 40 percent of the total population of Andhra Pradesh, during his yatra.