Turning the corner after violence broke out in Thoothukudi during protests demanding closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant, the Tamil Nadu government has begun to strike hard against unruly and anti-social elements, especially those who were involved in the violent incidents of 22 May.
The government has also begun to act against other protestors demanding shelving of the Rs 11,000 crore Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor and the state’s share of Cauvery water. The state government has begun to take action against some of the fringe groups, too, that have been provoking the people to indulge in violence.
The crackdown in the last couple of weeks, particularly after the Thoothukudi violence, has resulted in some of the vocal leaders like Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) founder Seeman falling silent and rushing to the Madras High Court to get anticipatory bail. Other fringe group leaders, too, have gone mute.
That the state government has adopted a tough stance to finally rein in these troublemakers, who have had a free run since December 2016 with the passing away of then chief minister J Jayalalithaa, is evident from what Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) working president M K Stalin in the assembly that his government was only taking on the anti-social elements and not the general public.
State Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar supplemented the Chief Minister’s statement when he told the media that arrests relating to the 22 May violence in Thoothukudi, resulting in the death of 13 people in police firing, were based on video evidence.
The latest on the crackdown related to protests demanding closure of the Sterlite copper plant is the under the National Security Act. All the six are from outside Thoothukudi, an indicator that those who indulged in violence on 22 May did not belong to Thoothukudi.
So far, over 200 persons have been arrested in connection with the case and police say they are searching for more who indulged in violence. Lawyers in Thoothukudi say barring some 25-30 people, the rest are out on bail. Among those still under detention is the NTK organiser Vinayarasu on charges of setting the copper plant employees’ quarters on fire. Police have filed nearly 30 cases related to this issue.
If Tamil Nadu was caught napping on the Sterlite issue, it seems to be fully aware of what is happening on the ground with regard to the controversy raked up on the Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor. This project will be implemented under the Bharatmala Pariyojana scheme and its objective is to cut the travelling time not just between the two cities but to other places connecting both cities. The problem in this issue is that wild allegations are being made on social media and mischievous propaganda is being made that only a couple of corporate firms will benefit from this scheme. These allegations are being bandied around even before the government could float a tender for the project.
Intelligence reports warned that some of the organisations encouraging violence had penetrated into the villages, where the project will be implemented, and begun misleading the people. The reports also revealed that 150 groups formed in the five districts - through which the expressway will pass - are planning to resist any land acquisition.
Last week, the Tamil Nadu police began to act against those trying to instigate violence over this issue. First, a group of farmers who were provoking people against the eight-lane expressway were arrested. Second, police arrested a DMK and NTP functionary for their role in this incident.
On Monday (11 June), for the first time, Palaniswami came out with a clear statement to take on those opposing the project. He told the assembly during a call attention motion that the project would require the state to acquire only 747.31 lakh acres of the land. He also said that the compensation would be more than double than what the government had paid earlier for a four-land road. Palaniswami has asked for cooperation from the opposition parties, saying more Central projects will come to the state if the corridor project was executed.
The state government looks to have adopted a harsh stance against some of the smaller parties like NTP and Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK), filing cases, including on sedition charges against their cadre for indulging in violence during protests demanding Cauvery water. These parties have been at the forefront of unrest in Tamil Nadu. Nothing can illustrate the police action better than the NTK founder Seeman being forced to avail of for the violence that broke out in Chennai when he led his party against the conduct of Indian Premier League cricket match on 10 April.
The charges made against Seeman are rioting with deadly weapons, attempt to murder, assault on public servants and criminal intimidation. Seeman’s party colleague V Kadaldeepan has been booked under Goondas Act for indulging in violence in Neyveli during the Cauvery protests. All these cases are challenges that Seeman has hardly experienced in his fledgling political career.
TVK founder-leader T Velmurugan has been charged with sedition for his role in instigating violence during Cauvery protests along with some of his cadres. He has also been booked under the National Security Act, while a separate case has also been filed against him and his cadre for damaging a toll plaza. He was lodged in Central prison in Chennai suburb Puzhal, but is now under treatment for urinary infection at a hospital.
Stepping up its initiative to rein in troublemakers, the state government has booked a case against Tamil television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai after fracas broke out during the weekend at a hall in Coimbatore where it had arranged a round-table conference. It has also booked Tamil movie director Ameer Sulthan, another NTK leader already facing cases for Cauvery protests, in connection with this. The case against both is that they attempted to create divisions among two communities.
Tamil Nadu government seems to have been encouraged by the Centre’s move to offer its expertise in intelligence gathering. In a meeting with Tamil Nadu officials, Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman had offered the assistance through the Intelligence Bureau.
These actions are a result of the state seeing itself as a serious investment destination. Palaniswami told the assembly on 4 June that the state was being viewed as a place of protests. He also told the opposition that even his party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, had staged protests but it never indulged in the sort of violence that the opposition has unleashed now. The government could have decided to crack the whip finally as the Global Investors Meet, scheduled to be held in March next year, draws near. It is no surprise that leaders who until recently openly challenged the government have now become silent.
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