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Tamil Nadu trawling for trouble

Like M Karunanidhi trying to catch up with issues and demands so as not to be outsmarted by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, with a record of success in her valiant struggle to assert the state’s rights, the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader, Ramadoss, emerged out of shadows to galvanise his support base, mainly in the Vanniar community in northern and central districts, at a rally he planned for 25 April.

But that day’s events leading upto the rally in the night at Mamallapuram, the historic site for shore temples, were marked by widespread violence which has since remained unabated, posing serious law and order problem for the Jayalalithaa government. Tamil Nadu, steeped in caste politics, has experienced periodical outbursts like Vanniar-Dalit or Thevar-Dalit clashes in northern and southern districts.

Last November there were attacks on Dalit settlements in Dharmapuri district in north-western part. But the 25 April mob violence fell in a different category. PMK activists, many in inebriated state, torched Dalit homes, stoned and damaged scores of buses all along the east coast road on way to the rally at Mamallapuram addressed by Ramadoss, a staunch prohibitionist.

The scale of violence by PMK cadres that day and the continuing incidents across the state in the wake of the arrest of Ramadoss later could well become a marker for political re- alignments for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Ramadoss himself defied an order prohibiting speeches at the historic site beyond 10 pm, at the end of a day of rampage by PMK cadres all along the 100-km east coast road.

In the worst incidents in Marakkanam, according to official accounts, some huts of Dalits were burnt down and over 150 vehicles were set on fire. The arrest of the PMK leader followed on 30 April when he had planned demonstration at Villupuram, 150 km south of Chennai, for which police had refused permission. His arrest, and that of his son, Anbumani, former union health minister, in Chennai, subsequently, sparked mass protests in the Vanniyar-dominant districts of Tamil Nadu.

For days together, his supporters have been stoning buses and destroying transport vehicles making it unsafe for citizens on several routes across the state. Police had taken into custody over 2,000 PMK supporters initially in connection with incidents but the violent agitation continued demanding release of Ramadoss. On a call attention notice in Tamil Nadu Assembly, Jayalalithaa warned that violence would not be tolerated and stern action would be taken against all those inciting or indulging in violence. She squarely blamed PMK for Marakkanam and other incidents.

The chief minister’s strong line against PMK has been welcomed by the Dalit leader Thirumavalavan of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). He had been conferring with all political leaders over the Marakkanam incidents, denouncing ‘hate speeches’ of PMK men. He has drawn support from the Left parties as well as cine-start Captain Vijaykant’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the leading opposition party in the Assembly. He did not feel encouraged by the DMK leader’s stance, who appealed to the chief minister to release Ramadoss and others arrested while urging PMK cadres to display moderation in speeches.

Anbumani, who is leader of PMK young wing, expressed regret for acts of his partymen like clambering on the Mamallapuram shore temple and hoisting the party flags on the night of 25 April. But by charging the Jayalalithaa government with embarking on a ‘political vendetta’ against his party, Anbumani has now made it an AIADMK versus PMK issue.

PMK, a state-level party, and a junior partner in the DMK-Congress led alliance, could share power at the Centre post-2004 for some time.  Once the mercurial Ramadoss turned a critic of policies of the Karunanidhi government (2006-2011) in the state, the DMK leader lost no time to get PMK ministers at the Centre eased out. Now, Karunanidhi is trying to ingratiate himself with all Dravidian outfits for the next battle against Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in 2014.

For the Jayalalithaa government, the current wave of violence has certainly thrown a major problem of maintenance of law and order and ensuring security in public transport against Vanniar vandalism. Ramadoss  now in a Tiruchy jail with more than one case foisted against him was due to appear before a judicial magistrate by 16 May while his supporters called for more state-wide protests till then. Meanwhile, a Madurai-based Human Rights Group, holding PMK responsible for the attack on Dalit huts, has sought a Madras High Court direction to the Election Commission to de-recognise PMK. Jayalalithaa would appear to be more empathetic towards Dalits, not an insignificant segment of Tamil Nadu population.

Political analysts have already begun to see in the battle of wits waged between the two Dravidian majors, AIADMK looking better placed for the forthcoming battle, especially if the government could meanwhile alleviate the power shortage, over sand above her welfare schemes for the poor including cheap rice.

DMDK and the Left would await developments as they evolve and then firm up their positions. DMDK had in the past preferred to go with the Congress, without DMK while the Left could align with AIADMK-led alliance if Jayalalithaa keeps herself away from BJP. The recent stand-off between ruling AIADMK and DMDK, some of whose MLAs were suspended for ‘disorderly proceedings’ has cooled off a little. But Karunanidhi looks for a possible ally in DMDK, besides embracing PMK though these parties would want to be sure that DMK is cleared in 2G scandal and the party would give up family rule.

Jayalalithaa’s two-years so far in power has seen a string of successes at the civic and local body elections, in some of her strident moves vis-a-vis the Centre, as well as in her efforts at the apex court like securing notification of the Cauvery Tribunal’s Final Award on which the Centre had sat for years.

She also has had her way in resistance to FDI in multi-brand retail trade and in safeguarding the state’s autonomy in some critical areas.  Overall, her regime is associated with effective governance with no taint of corruption thus far. However, there are still some glitches, apart from easing the power situation, like tiding over the brewing water scarcity in the Chennai metropolitan region this summer. IPA
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