With the blistering heat beating down on Chennai and policemen watching helplessly, protesters in pristine white lay down on Kamaraj Salai, the road that faces the Marina Beach. With their backs on the fiery ground, a sea of party flags united as one to protest against the state and central governments. This effort to bring Tamil Nadu to a standstill was led by the DMK and other opposition parties, who called for a state-wide bandh on Thursday over the ‘injustice meted out’ to the state due to the non-formation of the Cauvery Management Board.
Hundreds of protesters were chanting one slogan under the sweltering Chennai heat: ‘We want the Cauvery Management Board’. These are the scenes from Chennai's Marina Beach- a venue that has witnessed one agitation after another since January 2017.
With several traders not opening shop for the day, protestors belonging to a rainbow of parties poured into Anna Salai as early as 7am on Thursday and made their way to the Marina Beach. The beach, however, was cordoned off by the police. But this did not stop the protesters who climbed over barricades and made their way forward.
Soon after the protesters saw the massive police presence, they changed tack, taking it in turns to approach the roads from every side. Leader of the Opposition and DMK Working President MK Stalin was leading the protests with a party flag in hand. Flanked by the VCK's Thol Thirumavalavan and TNCC's Thirunavukkarasar, the parties were marching side by side raising slogans against the government.
Speaking to TNM, one police officer said that the battalions were completely helpless since the protesting parties were coming one after another from different directions, making it extremely difficult.
Soon after they reached Kamaraj Salai, the protesters including Stalin, Thirumavalavan and Thirunavukkarasar were taken into preventive custody by the police.
The police personnel had to physically pick up the protesters and carry them out to the buses.
Arterial roads in the city were blocked with traffic piling up at several points along the city. MTC buses were diverted in several areas of the city.
‘We are being cheated’
Speaking to TNM, one protester belonging to the DMK said, “Our only demand is the Cauvery Management Board. We blame both the Centre and the state for this. People are trying to slow down our protest and derail us. Modi won’t get even one vote. Our farmers are going there and protesting. They didn’t get justice. We will keep protesting here regularly. Only if we put our legs in the slush, can we put our hands in our food. They are turning our fertile plains into a desert. The Modi government has to resign. EPS and OPS are slaves of the BJP.”
Another protester from the Congress said in Hindi, “Both states need to get water but we are being cheated. There is no water here and we are being inconvenienced. The Supreme Court’s orders must be followed. The state government here is listening to Modi. The government is theirs. They need to act.”
Chiming in to show the solidarity on display, his friend says, “This is a Muslim. We are all Tamils. We have no religion in this state. We are all the same. We are speaking in Tamil. This is not a problem between the people. This is a problem between the people and the Central government. The SC has given a perfect judgement. We need the judgement to be implemented. That’s all we require. We don’t have any religious problems here in the state. The Modi government and the RSS are trying to create religious unrest in the state. We will not allow that. The total authority is with the Central government. If they want to implement demonetisation or GST, they do it overnight.”
Even as leaders were detained by the police, agitated cadres continued to throng the area, with several protesters following the buses on two-wheelers. The undeterred protesters then squatted on the main road and lay down on the tar-topped roads.
Once again, the police who were trying to control the protesters came under fire for forcibly removing a child from his protesting mother. The child was carried away towards a bus even as he was screaming to go back to his mother.
With the Supreme Court slated to take up the Centre’s plea seeking clarification over the framing of a scheme on April 9, Tamil Nadu’s opposition parties are clear that they will no longer be taken for granted.
Speaking to protesters at the wedding hall where he was detained by the police, MK Stalin said, “All over Tamil Nadu, everyone has united in protest. As per numbers we have, over 10 lakh people have been arrested. We are postponing the all-party meet to Friday at 10: 30 am at Anna Arivalayam. We will discuss with the leaders. This is a problem of food and water.”
Responding to the state-wide protests, Minister for Fisheries D Jayakumar said, “We already sat for hunger strike for 9 hours (on Tuesday). Not like Karunanidhi or Stalin who sat only for 4 hours. As far as the Centre is concerned, it is their responsibility. If they don’t fulfil it, we will go to the Supreme Court. That’s where we can solve it. April 9 it is coming up in court. Our justice will be rendered. All our demands will be met there. The scheme includes everything, the CMB and the regulatory body. Farmers and farmers associations know that the DMK betrayed them for Cauvery. Now they are acting like they don’t know anything.”
On February 16, the Supreme Court had given its final verdict on the Cauvery water sharing dispute, where it reduced Tamil Nadu’s share of water to 177.25 tmc ft, while increasing the water allotted to Karnataka by 14.75 tmc ft.
The top court has also directed the Centre to frame a scheme within 6 weeks of the verdict. The deadline expired on March 29.
Two days later, the TN government filed a contempt of court petition against the Centre for not complying with the Supreme Court’s orders. The Centre in turn has sought clarification from the apex court with regard to framing of a scheme.
But it is the word scheme that has given room for interpretation.
Tamil Nadu interprets the use of the word “scheme” in the SC judgement as the setting up of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB), as recommended by the 2007 Tribunal order. The Board will be an independent body which will regulate the Cauvery water released to the States. TN argues that formation of this board is crucial as the state has pointed out that Karnataka has, in the past, declined to release the entire quantum of water.
Karnataka, on the other hand, argues that there is no use of the word ‘Board’ in the verdict and suggests alternatives to the CMB. Karnataka does not want the setting up of the board as the state would have to give up control over its dams.
With Karnataka going to polls on May 12, the Centre has also sought a three-month extension from the court to frame a scheme. The Centre argues that the Cauvery dispute is an emotive issue, which has caused law and order problems in the past. Notifying a scheme ahead of the polls would cause massive outrage and vitiate the election process, says the Centre.