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What lies beneath
The Church seems to have led the media by the nose in helping build a Congress-Communist narrative that dragged the RSS into the Tuticorin protests
The coverage by the national media of the protests in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, against Vedanta’s copper smelting plant has been injudicious, based on hearsay and without application of mind. A narrative has been parroted without critical examination.
It is true that protestors were killed in Tuticorin. But unfortunate and tragic as that is, did anyone bother to ask why police had to open fire? These protestors outnumbered the police force by a huge number at the collectorate; they assaulted police personnel physically, pelted them with stones, tore the clothes of female law enforcers and molested them, indulged in wanton acts of arson including setting fire to public property and indulged in an orgy of violence that threatened the safety of innocent people. Should it not be asked what forces were behind this extremely violent protest which is against every democratic norm? Was the protest sponsored or did it occur spontaneously? Who allowed the assault on police personnel and the burning of vehicles, buildings, ambulances and even setting the collectorate ablaze? Who made Tuticorin a battleground? Is death the only indicator of violence? Have we stopped condemning violence unless it results in deaths? Since when have we started celebrating protests indulge in acts of violence and destruction?
It is the absence of these questions being asked that the Opposition, led by the Congress and Communists, were quick to blame without any basis whatsoever the Narendra Modi-led Central Government rather than lay the responsibility for both the protests and the deaths of protestors in police firing at the door of the Tamil Nadu State Government which is in charge of law and order. But facts are of no consequence for those Opposition leaders who took to make wild, defamatory charges against Modi calling him a “murderer”. But then that is par for the course for the conspirators who pushed the Tuticorin protests into violence as it helped them in their goal of slinging mud at the Modi regime. Another motive could well have been to ensure the closure of the Sterlite Copper Smelting plant. But has anyone rationally thought about the negative effects of closing the plant? Is anyone worried about how this will affect our country’s economy and the thousands of employees who will be laid off?
The most provocative statement on the situation came from Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Apropos of nothing in particular, he blamed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for the Tuticorin row, keeping in tune with his politics which begins and ends with RSS-baiting. When journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered, Gandhi accused the Sangh of being behind the killing within half-an-hour of the shooting. When BS Yeddyurappa resigned as the Chief Minister of Karnataka because he couldn’t prove his majority on the floor of the House, Gandhi proclaimed he was supporting the rump JDS to “save the people from the RSS”. Rahul’s anti-Hindu bias is understandable but accusing the Sangh of being a terrorist organization is beyond the pale. In fact, the Congress-Communist cabal by baseless charges against the RSS instead of engaging in an ideological debate has ensured that the Sangh has come to represent Hindu sentiment nationwide. As a corollary, opposition to the RSS is considered ‘opposition to communalism’ and support of Islamic and Christian communalism and is termed ‘secularism’ by this cabal.
In the Tuticorin case, however, there seems to be more to it than just the reflexive blame-the-Sangh approach; a concerted attempt by the Church in those parts, supported by Gandhi and the so-called secular media, to drag the Sangh into the row is evident. The districts of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu have the highest number of Christians and the Church has great influence on the public. It is not a coincidence that in the last two decades these districts have faced the greatest opposition to national development projects.
The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tirunelveli, which was developed in collaboration with Russia, also saw a lot of protests. America’s disdain for this project was quite evident. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly blamed US-funded institutions for the protests against Kudankulam. The then Union Minister V Narayanasamy alleged that Bishop Yavon Ambrose of Tuticorin received Rs 54 crore and was the key figure behind the protests. Many Christian institutions such as People’s Education for Action and Liberation, and Good Vision were on the Union Home Ministry’s radar as instigators. The Home Secretary had announced that bank accounts of four such NGOs were sealed, as money was transferred from overseas to fund national protests and incite disruption.
The Christian population in Tuticorin is close to 30 per cent and the Church has a deep impact on residents’ everyday life. The plan to expand the Sterlite copper plant was brought forward as a new addition to the scope of already on-going disputes. Before the Sterlite plant was closed, it was producing four lakh tons of copper annually. Under the proposed expansion, which would have happened if not for the violent protests and subsequent deaths in police firing, Sterlite would have produced eight lakh tons of copper annually. If this project had gone through, almost all of India’s copper needs would have been met domestically.
According to official police reports, the Tuticorin protest has a clear foreign influence. Samarendra Das of the ‘Foil Vedanta Group’ flew in from London and secretly met Sterlite protesters and assured them that he would fully support the continuation of the protests, according to police. Is it a coincidence that after the Tuticorin violence John McDonnell, a prominent leader of the Opposition Labour Party in the UK, declared that Vedanta is a rogue company and demanded it be removed from the London Stock Exchange? The discussions regarding Sterlite were used to instigate the locals of Tuticorin. Brother Mohan C. Lazarus on a YouTube video said, without any scientific backing, that Sterlite is a toxic factory. He said that the Church is praying to shut down the factory. He further stated that a protest will be held on 24 March, 2018, at Rajaji Park in Tuticorin, where all Catholics, Pentecostals, Church of South India (CSI) would unite to participate against Sterlite. Scientists of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had visited Sterlite and certified that emissions were within prescribed limits. Then what have these Churches achieved by provoking people against Sterlite, claiming that pollution levels are extremely hazardous? The Kundankulam protests saw the participation of Bishop Yvon Ambroise and SP Udayakumar, while the Sterlite protest had Brother Mohan C. Lazarus and other churches in the surrounding area as prime movers. Is the anti-development attitude of the Church not to be questioned? If the Manmohan Singh Government could take action against such disruptive elements then why can’t the Modi Government?
Police were portrayed as villains in Tuticorin. The media narrative was overwhelmingly of trigger-happy cops going berserk; did anyone try to figure out why the police was compelled to take last-resort action? Local journalist N. Rajesh’s report says the Deputy Inspector General of Police Kapil Kumar Saratkar made elaborate arrangements at the protest venue so that activists would not reach the collectorate. Even when senior police officers were talking to protest leaders and asking them to ensure a peaceful demonstration, radical activists broke the barricades and used iron pieces from them to assault police personnel. Police responded with a ‘lathi’ charge. Rajesh’s report says he and some other journalists climbed to the rooftop of a hotel opposite the collectorate to get a better sense of what was going down. At 11:30 am some protesters, who had forced their way into the collectorate, began burning vehicles. When the protestors saw that their photographs were being clicked and videos being recorded, they pelted journalists with stones. When journalists came down from the roof of the hotel some were assaulted and many had their cameras snatched.
The testimony of the collectorate employees supports Rajesh’s reportage. A female employee said that at 11.10 a.m., she was having tea in the canteen with her colleagues; about 20 minutes later they witnessed bruised and battered police personnel being chased by stone-pelting protesters. The employees were scared and didn’t know what to do, so they went back to their office for safety. Then there was a second wave of protestors when an estimated 15,000-20,000 activists entered the collectorate office. They had weapons fashioned from iron rods, glass bottles, petrol bombs and lathis. They set about destroying the office and setting fire to government vehicles. There were about 100 policemen deployed for security who tried to control the protestors and prevent them from entering the collectorate. But the protesters outnumbered the policemen by thousands. They ruthlessly attacked the policemen who ran away in fear of their lives. They then set fire to all collectorate vehicles. The entire office was filled with smoke, suffocating the employees. The protesters didn’t even spare female police personnel. They tore their clothes and molested them. There are hundreds of eye-witnesses to what transpired and they all say the same thing.
Opportunistic politicians and parties who blame police for opening fire need to be more circumspect. Any loss of life is tragic and unfortunate, but what would they have done if faced with a life-threatening situation had they had been stationed at the Sterlite plant and tasked with ensuring its safety? Should violent mobs have been allowed to create havoc and decimate Tuticorin and the copper plant? Should physical assaults on cops and government officials have been allowed? Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad compared those who died in the police firing to the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh. Azad should be asked if the martyrs of Jallianwala were armed with stones, iron rods, lathis, petrol bombs and glass bottles and whether they chased, assaulted and attempted to kill police officers and commit arson.
The public may have a short memory but they cannot be fooled. Prior to Rahul Gandhi blaming the Sangh, and Ghulam Nabi’s comparison to Jallianwala Bagh, back in 2007 the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh had allowed the extension of the Sterlite plant. The Congress party’s blue-eyed boy and former Home and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram was a Director in Sterlite’s parent company Vedanta before becoming a minister in the UPA government. Blinded by his intense hatred for the Sangh, Rahul Gandhi has also forgotten that law and order is a state subject. There is no BJP government in Tamil Nadu, so why indirectly or directly accuse the RSS?
It is about time that the BJP, the Central Government, and especially the Union Home Ministry learn from this incident. Asking for a report on the incident is not enough. The Home Ministry has failed to investigate the conspiracy, for which it needs to work in collaboration with State Government officials, to bring out the truth. During Manmohan Singh’s regime, there were some attempts to stop radical elements in the Church harming the national interest. What is stopping the Modi Government from following suit?
(The writer is Director, Nijhawan Group of Companies)
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