news Saturday, May 30, 2015 - 05:30
Even as the 'de-recognition' of the IIT-Madras student body Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) is being hotly debated, the institute's gates in Chennai witnessed a heavy police presence on Saturday morning, expecting protests from various 'youth' organisations linked to political parties of the Left.  Within a span of two hours from around 10 am, at least 100 members in all, belonging to multiple organisations, both political and otherwise gathered near the IIT Madras campus. But the protests on Saturday went far beyond just dissent against freedom of expression to criticise a ruling government. What came out in display were strong voices of support in favour of two of India's most important anti-caste leaders - Periyar and BR Ambedkar.  Way past the expected time for protestors to start appearing, members of the Democratic Youth Federation of India(DYFI), a wing of the CPI(M), took everyone by surprise. Squatting dead centre on one of Chennai’s busiest roads, the Sardar Patel Road, they held placards raising slogans against the Modi government, Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani and the IIT management.  A minor scuffle broke out soon enough with quick words coming from senior officials and within minutes screaming protestors were taken away in waiting police buses. Even as members of the DYFI were being hoarded into a bus, another organisation, the Revolutionary Student Youth Federation (RSYF), holding flags, began raising slogans of its own .  Including a number of women, the members believed that when a student group circle in IIT Madras could use the name of Vivekanada, the name Ambedkar created problems. Around the same time, a large number of members belonging to the  Ambedkar Makkal Iyyakkam and the Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam, a breakaway faction of the Periyar Dravida Kazhagam which was a splinter group of the original Dravida Kazhagam started by the leader Periyar himself, began protesting a few blocks ahead at Madhya Kailash.    A man known for his endless struggle for the poor and downtrodden in Tamil Nadu, the members gathered questioned why there was no place for Periyar on his own soil. Soon after, an attempt to burn the picture of HRD minister Smriti Irani was disrupted by police and the protestors were taken away.  This was not it: the surprise of the day was reserved when local Hindutva leader Arjun Sampath, of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (HMK) known for its protests against writer 'Perumal Murugan' and which has conducted 'Ghar Wapsi' campaigns in the past, landed at the IIT-M gates holding large photos of BR Ambedkar came along with another cadre sporting saffron.  Could a name make all the difference? HMK's cadres, led by Sampath, were by far the smallest group of protestors amongst the lot. They stood holding a large banner of Ambedkar calling out that the IIT Madras needed to be renamed with Ambedkar’s name. He however, took on an anti-Periyar stand saying that no student group within the college must be named after him. He also called for a curtailment of activities of the Dravida Kazhagam and other communist parties in law colleges.  However, what played along the sides of the IIT issue is a representation of the BJP’s apparent attempt to appease the Dalit votes by praising its biggest voice - Ambedkar when it laid the foundation of an Ambedkar International Centre in April. A man virtually opposed to the Hindu Mahasabha, the BJP’s views of the leader took a complete u-turn overnight thus eyeing the sizeable Dalit vote in Bihar and other states. With Sampath playing the Periyar versus Ambedkar card, what remains is a controversy at an educational institution that has been festered with politics and ideologies.