There are indications that anti-CAA protests in Chennai bear similarities to the violent Sterlite and Marina Beach demonstrations.
Here’s why there are strong reasons to believe the Chennai protests are being “directed from outside”.
As Chennai’s 'Shaheen Bagh’ protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 at a congested area in the northern part of the metropolis enters the second week, there are a few similarities to the earlier ones seeking closure of the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi and removal of the ban on jallikattu (bullfight) in Tamil Nadu.
Earlier this week, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) made a statement in the state assembly that there was a clear indication of the involvement of Islamic organisations, including radical ones, in the anti-CAA protests.
These organisations have earlied been involved in the protests at Marina Beach in Chennai demanding that ban on jallikattu be removed, and in Thoothukudi demanding closure of the Sterlite plant. Both the protests ended up in violence, resulting in loss of lives and properties.
Making a statement on the protests at Washermanpet, EPS said that on 14 February the local police station officials called representatives of the Muslims from 13 mosques in the area and during discussions sought to know if they had plans to hold anti-CAA protests that day.
“All the Muslim leaders unanimously said they had no intention to hold such a protest that day. However, they said they had sought permission to hold a public meeting on 23 February,” the Chief Minister said.
But around 1.30 pm that day, 300 people, including 200 women, began protests at Kannan Circle (roundtana) in Washermanpet. Police then told them that they cannot hold protest without permission and explained that it would affect traffic as well as normal life, he said.
“However, the protesters continued to stage the protest raising defamatory slogans against the Union and state governments. When police tried to arrest 40 of the protests, they did not cooperate. When they were boarded in a bus, they indulged in violence, damaging its front panes. All of them were securely lodged in a marriage hall at nearby Tondiarpet,” EPS said.
The driver of the government bus lodged a complaint, following which a case under IPC sections and Tamil Nadu Government Property Damages and Loss Act was filed. Even as the case was taken up for investigations, more people gathered at the Kannan Circle and raised slogans besides disrupting traffic.
“Police asked them to disperse but in vain. They also warned the protesters that they would be arrested. But the protesters defied police orders and began indulging in a riot — throwing stones, water bottles and slippers. Five police personnel, including a woman IPS officer, were hurt in the attack,” the Chief Minister said.
According to EPS, police also put barricades to ensure the general public were not troubled, and also to prevent any damage to properties. But some people came from outside and provoked the protesters.
These people broke the barricades and tried to stage a road blockade, pushing aside the policemen on duty there. As the protesters began to resort to violence again, 82 persons were arrested and lodged in the same marriage hall. Again, the government vehicle carrying those arrested was damaged.
Then, all of a sudden rumours spread that a 70-year-old person, who lived six streets away from the site of protest and died of natural causes, had become a victim of the lathi charge. This resulted in the protests spreading to other parts of the state.
Following these developments, the Chennai City Police Commissioner held talks at 9.30 pm that night in which a different set of people took part.
The representatives included Tamil Nadu Popular Front of India (PFI) leader Mohammed Ismail, its political wing Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) state convenor Ameer Hamsa, SDPI North Chennai president Khaja Moideen, and National Thowheed Forum leader A S Alauddin.
At the meeting, the representatives agreed that the protesters would disperse and police would release the arrested. However, the protests continued, extending till date.
According to the Chief Minister, many political parties extended their support to the protest the next day by taking part in it. Another round of discussions was held where police asked the representatives to ensure that the protesters did not indulge in violence.
The third day, leaders of Naam Tamilar, a fringe political party in the state, Seeman and Mansur Ali Khan took part in the protest and extended support. Also extending support was S P Udaykumar, anti-nuclear activist, EPS said, adding that he also met SDPI delegations the following day.
In his statement, the Chief Minister said that though the state police was giving full protection to those protesting, there were “forces who are provoking violence”.
EPS statement is clear that the representatives of the anti-CAA protests changed within a matter of 11 hours. Initially, representatives of the 13 mosques in Washermanpet held talks with police on 14 February morning.
By 9.30 pm that day when the City Police Commissioner held talks, the whole set of representatives had changed — an indication that it is being directed from outside.
Of particular concern is the role of the PFI, a radical Islamic organisation, whose leader took part in the meeting with the police commissioner.
The PFI is trying to make its presence felt in Tamil Nadu after gaining a strong foothold in neighbouring Kerala. That its state leader has taken part in the discussions, as per EPS statement in the assembly, is clear of its complicity in the protests.
The PFI has been alleged to be very active across the country in the anti-CAA protests and reportedly been funding the protesters too. The increasing presence of the PFI comes at a time when the Union and some state governments are planning to ban it.
Also, PFI’s political wing SDPI is also involved in the protests. Two of its leaders took part in the meeting held by the Chennai Police Commissioner. Its representatives also met EPS later.
SDPI role in the protest should also raise concern as its members who have always ridiculed the conduct of bullfights in Tamil Nadu during Pongal festival were among the most active in the 2017 jallikattu protests across Tamil Nadu, particularly on Marina Beach.
SDPI was also involved in the protests demanding the closure of the Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant that turned violent on 22 May 2018, when 13 people died in police firing. The plant was subsequently closed on 28 May 2018 by the Tamil Nadu government and as a result, India has a net importer of copper.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), in its chargesheet against 18 of the accused, has recorded that the PFI plotted Ramalingam’s murder.
Videos and reports have also pointed to the role of Campus Front of India, the PFI student wing, in the Chennai 'Shaheen Bagh’ protest. The Campus Front is very active in Kerala and has been involved in a couple of violent in universities in the neighbouring state, including murders.
Among other organisations, Naam Tamilar, also involved in various protests in the state since 2017, has joined the Chennai ‘Shaheen Bagh’ protests.
Naam Tamilar and SDPI got their members from other districts to join the protest demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi.
National Thowheed Forum, which had taken part in earlier protests, and Tamil Nadu Muslim Service Organisation (Tamil Nadu Muslim Thondu Iyakkam) are other organisations behind the Chennai anti-CAA protest.
These organisations could have indulged in violence on 19 February when the Tamil Nadu Federation of Islamic and Political Organisation attempted the long march to the State Secretariat at Fort St George in Chennai.
But their attempt was foiled by heavy police deployment and officials shutting all access roads to Fort St George.
While the role of these organisations in the Chennai 'Shaheen Bagh’ protests is worrisome, it is also amusing that these organisations are now holding up the national flag and singing the National Anthem, which they have opposed as they have claimed these to be against their religious beliefs.