The day after

Print edition : October 31, 2014

The thatched cover of the rajagopuram of Kalayarkoil in Sivaganga district caught fire when some AIADMK cadre burst firecrackers in the mistaken belief that Jayalalithaa had been granted bail on October 7. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A poster in Chennai asking Judge John Michael D'Cunha to apologise to "People's Chief Minister" Jayalalithaa and the people of Tamil Nadu, linking the sentence to the Cauvery dispute. Photo: By Special Arrangement

In Namakkal and elsewhere in the State, women belonging to AIADMK ate food mixed with mud in temples after Jayalalithaa was sentenced. Photo: By Special Arrangement.

AIADMK activists stage bizarre acts of protest across Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa’s conviction on September 27 and the rejection of her bail plea on October 7.

“A GOVERNMENT does not fall out of the sky,” thunders actor Vijayakanth in the courtroom climax of the high-grossing Tamil movie Captain Prabhakaran. “People create governments. The government is for the people. It’s because of the right that they had bestowed on you that you are the public prosecutor, and you the judge,” he tells the prosecutor and the Bench, as the monologue lengthens in the courtroom drama. “Let the people tell me if I am right or wrong,” he carries on. “ Makkal theerpe magesan theerpunnu naan ethukkiren,” (I will accept the people’s verdict as God’s verdict) says Vijayakanth, who is accused of murdering two officials and a politician in the movie. Outside the court, the people try to push their way in, even as lathi-wielding police beat them up.

In real life, in Bangalore, both on September 27, when a special court pronounced Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, a former actor, guilty and sentenced her to a four-year prison term, and later, on October 7, when the Karnataka High Court threw out her bail application, thousands of her supporters had gathered outside the courts. To them, their “Amma” was not guilty. It cut no ice with the court. The Bangalore Police made sure that the AIADMK cadre did not have any access to the courts.

Bizarre scenes were acted out in Tamil Nadu after the September 27 judgment, and every day a new group tried to upstage a protest that had preceded it: “Can a mortal punish God?” asked members of the film industry, in a poster. Actors and technicians gathered in strength on October 2 to observe a fast from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. against the conviction of Jayalalithaa.

On October 4, as many as 119 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) MLAs observed a fast in front of the MGR Memorial on Kamarajar Salai in Chennai from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No slogans were raised. A poster next to the “Triumph of Labour” statue on the nearby Marina beach declared, among other things: “If her detention is prolonged, she will also become the Chief Minister of Karnataka.”

And, yes, the gods were invoked to help out too. In Chennai, a “Maha Chandi homam” was organised by AIADMK MLA V.P. Kalairajan. In Coimbatore, the party cadre participated in a multi-religious prayer, with Mayor P. Rajkumar, MLAs, Corporation councillors and office-bearers of various cooperative organisations in attendance. In Namakkal, in one of the many strange offerings that are made in Tamil Nadu, cadre ate food mixed with soil in a temple. In Erode, party supporters stood in the Bhavani river and offered prayers. There were candlelight vigils as well. Every city, town, and village with an AIADMK unit had a variation of the appeal to the Final Omniscient and Omnipotent Arbiter.

Until October 7, when Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam made an appeal for calm, party members continued with various forms of protests, mostly non-violent. There were a few cases of attacks on Karnataka registered vehicles, one on an Udupi Hotel in Chennai, and reports of self-immolations. A total of 154 AIADMK cadre had died or committed suicide so far “on hearing the news of the injustice done to Jayalalithaa”, claimed an AIADMK press release. Of these, 113 died of shock when they watched on television how their leader was sentenced to imprisonment by the judge on September 27, the press release claimed.

‘Encouraging protests’

Those without any party affiliations joined in too. Some were “encouraged” to do so, while others did it because they felt it was the safer thing to do since the next Legislative Assembly elections would only be held in May 2016. On October 5, about 6,000 private buses kept off the roads in 29 districts of the State. The Federation of Bus Operators Associations of Tamil Nadu was behind this, demanding her release. In Tirupur, knitwear industry owners were on the horns of a dilemma: they were busy completing orders to meet the Deepavali demand and were keen on meeting the deadlines. Some shut shop, prompting the unions to issue statements asking the owners to pay full wages for the day. In Jayalalithaa’s retreat, Kodanad, employees of the Kodanad Tea Estate observed a fast.

One of the weirdest non-protests came from private schools. On October 6, it was announced that over 4,500 private schools in the State and about 170 private engineering colleges in the western region of Tamil Nadu would not function the next day. The threat of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition and a series of questions over the propriety of the announcement by the Federation of Association of Private Schools in Tamil Nadu and the Association of Private Engineering College Managements in the western region made them scurry for cover.

“There shall be no holiday on 07.10.2014 and all schools and colleges shall function as usual,” the Madras High Court noted on October 6. It warned the Tamil Nadu government: “The State government and its instrumentalities are directed to see that the schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu function smoothly.... We make it clear that should any untoward incidents take place, the State government will be held responsible,” the court said.

Many educational institutions found innovative ways around the order. One declared that schools managed by it were being closed on October 7 to carry out “maintenance works”, while a few others extended the long weekend by a day more for “administrative convenience”.

D-day arrives

Even as the Karnataka High Court took up the bail plea hearing, speculation was rife across drawing rooms and boardrooms in Tamil Nadu on what would happen. It appears that members of the press corps were as anxious about the verdict as the AIADMK cadre were. If one media outlet broke the news before others, then the reporters of others would be taken to task by their bosses.

So the Indian media outlets did not wait for the judge to pronounce the order. As soon as the Public Prosecutor, Bhavani Singh, declared that he was not opposing conditional bail, some of them started flashing that Jayalalithaa had been granted conditional bail. Almost all the websites of newspapers and independent news aggregators flashed this news, only to carefully curate and remove it a few minutes later.

Vaaimai vendrathu. Makkalin Mudalvar Jayalalithaa Jameenil Viduthalai [Truth triumphs. People’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa out on bail],” screamed Jaya TV, a television channel owned by Jayalalithaa and her associates.

Even as AIADMK men across the State began their celebrations, the judge pronounced the order denying bail, which led to some incidents of violence across the State, primarily targeting anything from Karnataka, mostly buses and KA registration vehicles. For hours on end, it appeared that Chief Minister Panneerselvam’s appeal for calm had no takers. “Why would they listen to him?” asked a journalist. In 1996, Panneerselvam was an unknown chairman of a municipality. In 2001, he was among the many new faces in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet. A few months on, he was anointed Chief Minister for a short while.

Because Jayalalithaa has managed to make so many obscure AIADMK party men Ministers, it looks as if it is the ambition of every party functionary to become a Minister. The attempt now—for all cadre everywhere—is to catch “Amma’s” attention. That drama will be played out as long as the AIADMK is run as a monolithic party with Dr Puratchi Thalaivi Amma as its permanent general secretary.

Political reaction

In a State where all political calculations are kept in abeyance until a major election, political parties did not think it fit to launch an all-out campaign against a convicted leader.

A muted Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), reeling from the 2G scam and new disclosures that had come up recently in the Enforcement Directorate charge sheet, and forced to answer questions about the wealth of its 100-plus-member-strong first family, lobbed the ball into the court of the Union government. “The actions of the ruling party men have disturbed life and created an emergency-like situation. It is condemnable that the police, instead of preventing anti-social activities, are abetting them,” a resolution adopted at a meeting of the DMK district secretaries held in Chennai on October 8 said.

The actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth has had a stormy relation with Jayalalithaa. His party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which was once an ally, had parted ways with the AIADMK which had lured some of his party MLAs.

Soon after the first round of violence, he too felt the need to get into the act. Vijayakanth gathered his MLAs and went to the Raj Bhavan on September 28. He presented a memorandum to the Governor in which the party expressed concern over the law and order situation and referred to “visible reports” of AIADMK supporters “indulging in violence”, targeting opposition leaders and their residences besides damaging public property. “We request your Excellency to instil confidence in the hearts of the people and restore the rule of law. We are sure that you will intervene and ensure the peaceful atmosphere in Tamil Nadu immediately,” he said.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) wanted the disqualification of two Ministers for allegedly putting up posters denigrating the Special Court’s judgment.

Arguing that invocation of Article 355 of the Constitution was the need of the hour, PMK founder S. Ramadoss said on October 7 that as the PMK was against President’s Rule under Article 356, he was demanding invocation of Article 355, under which the Centre was duty-bound to ensure that the government of every State was carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

The CPI(M) alleged that the State administrative machinery was misused to support the cause of Jayalalithaa and demanded that the State government take action to ensure that normal life was not affected. Noting that the conviction was pronounced after the charges against Jayalalithaa were proved, the CPI(M) State Committee said that the convicted could approach higher courts. Criticising the judgment because its leader was affected was one thing, but resorting to violence and trying to instigate people of Tamil Nadu against those in Karnataka needed to be condemned, it said.

Some posters in Tamil Nadu claimed that it was because Jayalalithaa had fought to make sure the State received its share of Cauvery waters that she was being punished by a court in Karnataka. All legal issues, the evidence that the court went by, and the fact that the case had dragged on for 18 years were lost on a section of AIADMK supporters and well-wishers.

There were also posters asking Karnataka to release “Amma”. In exchange, one poster said, Tamil Nadu did not want it to release Cauvery waters.

The general argument advanced by this section of people was that Amma was jailed for reasons that were beyond the comprehension of the common man. They were convinced it was a conspiracy and refused to acknowledge the fact that Indian subordinate courts get pulled up by higher courts in case any foul play is suspected.

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