Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami stood flag in hand on Friday, waving the green cloth at cameras in the Egmore metro railway station. Flanked by Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, Palaniswami was signalling the inauguration of two new metro lines in Chennai.
But this scene of celebration at noon in the station premises could not have been more contrasting to the commotion that had unfolded outside the venue only an hour ago.
Multiple party flags held by members of the DMK, Congress, IUML, VCK and CPI(M) had filled the Police Commissioner road in Egmore. Workers of opposition parties had gathered in large numbers and marched to the Egmore station, two demands renting the air - Edappadi Palaniswami's resignation and the shutdown of the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi.
Led by DMK MP M Kanimozhi and VCK chief Thol Thirumalavan, over 100 protesters raised slogans against the AIADMK dispensation and the allegedly flippant manner in which they had handled the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi district. With 13 agitators killed and 100 others injured due to 'police brutality', the anger from the district had spilled over into the capital city.
'Bring down the government'
"The centre and state are destroying Tamil Nadu and its people. We demand that the EPS government be brought down immediately. They are responsible for the deaths in Thoothukudi district," lashed out one protester. "These men are all in their control," he adds angrily, pointing to the policemen who were silently walking on the sidelines of the rally.
The Egmore station was barely 500 metres from the point where the protest began but the police already had vehicles ready to detain the agitators.
"This is not a one-day protest," a middle-aged female protester in DMK flag colours tells TNM. "We will come protest everyday. How long can they keep detaining us?" she asks.
While the political leaders were first led to the buses, cadre soon voluntarily got into the vehicles that would take them to Siraj Mahal, just minutes away from the station itself.
'Shut down plant permanently'
At Siraj Mahal, opposition leaders took to the stage and addressed the cadre, echoing the sentiment that the protests in the state will continue as long as the Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi remained open.
"We want the plant to be permanently shut down," DMK MP Kanimozhi tells TNM, as party leaders listen to her every word. "Temporary closure of operations or even stopping expansion is not enough. Sterlite Copper must be completely shut down," she emphasises.
But what was the DMK doing for the two decades that the plant was operational? The protests against Sterlite were seen even during the previous DMK regime.
"It was the Jayalalithaa government which gave permission for the Sterlite factory to be started in Thoothukudi and today the central government has diluted all norms of environment protection. That is why industries like Sterlite very easily get their licenses renewed and that is why they have got permission for expansion also," claims Kanimozhi.
"I really don't understand how the DMK can be blamed because the protesters have been protesting for over 100 days. The state government under EPS has done nothing to speak to them or resolve this issue," she points out.
The DMK over the last few days has placed the blame for the death of civilians on the government and alleged that it was a deliberate effort to quell the protests.
"Without any warning, they have shot at people and it is a complete pre-meditated cold blooded murder," says Kanimozhi. "The state government has decided that this is the best way to teach people a lesson and to ensure there are no further protests in Tamil Nadu. These murders have been committed just to intimidate and threaten the people," she alleges.
But both the police and the administration have claimed that the violence was unexpected and that their action were merely in self-defence.
"The government is claiming that extreme forces have come into the protest. Even in that case, it is the state government's failure. It is a complete failure of intelligence to not know this before," she argues. "Even now, after all this, the Chief Minister has not gone to see the people of Thoothukudi. Why won't he go meet them?" she asks.
DMK Working MK Stalin who led protests in Kanchipuram on Friday, had visited the troubled district a day after the violent clashes. Several other leaders of the opposition parties including MDMK Chief Vaiko and MNM founder Kamal Haasan rushed to Thoothukudi following the news of police brutality against anti-Sterlite protesters. A case was slapped against them by the police for violating section 144 which is in place in the district.
But it is not just the people of the district that the Chief Minister has been avoiding meeting. Kanimozhi points out that even Stalin was not given an appointment by Edappadi Palaniswami.
"The working President of the DMK, who is the opposition leader asked to meet the CM. Why was he stopped?" she asks. Stalin following this alleged refusal to be granted permission for a meeting protested at the Secretariat with other leaders of the DMK. The AIADMK had termed it political drama and dismissed his allegations. "If he was not stopped, they wouldn't have to sit in dharna there. Why didn't they meet him? What excuse does he have?" asks Kanimozhi.
The DMK MP further points out that the incidences of protests in the state have rocketed due the current dispensation's inefficiency. "There have been over 22,000 protests," she says.
Adding to the agitations?
Then how are the protests by the opposition parties going to add any value to the struggle of people in Thoothukudi?
"This protest will not end here. It will continue. It was initiated by the people and we are just lending support. This not a protest led by parties," she defends.
Despite the ongoing agitations and political backlash to its activities, however, Vedanta Resources remains confident of restarting operations in Thoothukudi. In a statement to the media on Thursday, its founder Anil Agarwal said, "The plant closed for annual maintenance. We are waiting for clearance from government and court to restart. Strictly following orders from court and government. We always make sure community and Tuticorin people prosper with us."
The DMK however, dismisses Vedanta's assurance of a comeback.
"The DMK will definitely come to power in the next election and if the factory is not shut down by then, we will definitely shut it down," says Kanimozhi.