Two different protests had two different consequences this week. One protest, the like of which Chennai has not seen in recent years and police fumbled in dealing with, is the one going on since last Thursday by 28 Muslim outfits outraged by the American Youtube clip Innocence of Muslims. That led to the abrupt transfer of the city police commissioner, J. K. Tripathy, because he was unable to gauge the violence properly. Protestors, last Friday, broke the bullet proof glass ceiling of the cabin at the entrance of the visa section of the American consulate, damaged CCTV camera and sun shades and some even scaled the iron grills above the compound wall and damaged a few lights. The security cabin at the main entrance was destroyed and gates on both sides bore the brunt of the mob's fury. The other protest, which frequently comes up in TN, but this time MDMK’s Vaiko took out of the state to Madhya Pradesh, which has invited Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, had a violent outcome in Salem when an auto-driver, Vijayaraj(26), died on Tuesday after self-immolating himself the day before. Vaiko himself, garnered huge publicity, when the fleet of 15 buses he led to Sanchi in MP was stopped at the Maharashtra-MP border.
The question that is being asked in several quarters is why Chennai, which was largely untouched by communal riots even after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 (that spawned bloody riots in other cities and towns in India), is perhaps the only metro that has seen violent and surging crowds of Muslims protesting the film. While the police could be forgiven for not anticipating last Friday’s riot when a big group of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) cadres breached the security cordon (police were outnumbered), damaged the consulate camera fixed on the outer walls and damaged fibre-glass counters, there is no explanation for the way they goofed up on Tuesday. Considering that about 200 police were crawling everywhere in the morning around the US Consulate, how was it they were caught napping when a small crowd of protestors morphed into a 10,000-strong crowd from 28 different Muslim organizations? The police had to resort to a lathicharge on two occasions to control the crowds. Ten police personnel including a woman constable, who suffered serious injuries, are undergoing treatment at government hospitals here. Police have booked 325 persons in the attack. But, again, how could the police not anticipate it after the US Ambassador was killed in Libya and US missions had let it be known that all over the world they were vulnerable to attack?
The question is also whether the continuing protests are being orchestrated by different groups in a display of competitive politics to emerge as the voice of the community. TMMK general secretary Jawahirullah (also an MLA from its offshoot Manithaneya Makkal Katchi) has denied his party’s involvement in the attack on the consulate but has justified it saying Muslims have been hurt by the film. “The director should apologise for wantonly hurting our religious sentiments,” he says. He adds that it was a spontaneous protest because “no Muslim will tolerate the Prophet being projected in a bad light.” But not everyone agrees, saying that radical offshoots were born because the community felt all its leaders are only interested in electoral politics, and not in issues affecting them. Mohammed Muneer, vice-president India Tawheed Jamath (INTJ), a splinter group of Tamil Nadu Tawheed Jamath (TNTJ), whose organization was given police permission to protest, says, “There is no place for violence in Islam and whatever happened in Chennai was totally unexpected. It was not a pre-meditated attack on the US Consulate.” However, Prof K.M. Kader Mohideen, president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) of Tamil Nadu unit, had a different view: “We do not have faith in this kind of protests, though we strongly condemn the film. Violent protests will present the entire Muslim community in bad light.”
The other significant protest in the state is the one against the the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant which hit a peak last week when protestors ringed the plant and were stopped by police. Protesters conducted a jal statyagraha, even buried themselves in the sand but according to union minister of state in the PMO, V. Narayanswamy, nuclear fuel will be loaded in the plant in the next 20-odd days. Meanwhile, the leader of these protests, S. P. Udayakumar, has so far dodged a non- bailable warrant but appeared in Kuthenkuly to say the agitation against fuel loading would continue. Since the agitation against KKNPP began in August 2011, the police have filed 271 cases including 12 of sedition and waging war against the government. Udayakumar, his close associates M. Pushparayan, Fr. M.P. Jesuraj, Fr. Jayakumar and Milton and 40 others have been cited as accused for waging war against the government.
Apart from a fact-finding committee which reached Idintakarai, the coastal village near KKNPP which has been the epicentre of the agitation over the last year, those against the plant have had support this week from a fresh PIL in the Supreme Court this week, contending that the power project cannot be commissioned without resolving the issue of Russia’s liability in case of an accident. The public interest litigation petition sought a declaration that the plant, in Tirunelveli district, would be governed by the law of the land, as laid down by the Supreme Court, using the ‘absolute liability’ and ‘polluter pays’ principle.
“The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, channels the liability of a nuclear accident to the operator (government undertaking) of the said plant and then limits it to Rs.1, 500 crore. The cap on liability will have a severe impact on the safety of nuclear installations,” said the petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation; Common Cause; the former Power Secretary, E.A.S. Sarma; and G. Sundarrajan, a social activist from Tamil Nadu.