CHENNAI: It was variously called the Tamil Spring or the ‘jallikattu uprising’ and was showcased as a model for any form of protest. But the way it ended on Monday showed that the protestors did not have a graceful exit plan.
For the first six days, it made your hearts fill with pride and the force powers that be to sit up and take notice. The protesters on the Marina also earned brownie points by regulating traffic and helping collect the garbage.
But Monday’s violence by fringe elements, whose actual identity is not clear yet, and the numerous road rokos that brought the city to a standstill, definitely left a bad aftertaste.
A series of arson attacks with vehicles being set on fire and buses stoned left a sense of disgust. A few videos suggested policemen themselves set fire to some of the vehicles and others showed mobs of young men indulging in arson.
So, what really went wrong in the last phase of the protest?
There could be three reasons. One, messages in the social media made many believe an ordinance is only a temporary law. Two, entry of elements from various groups and political parties. Three, the police action of forcibly evicting the protesters at the Marina and other places.
Since the protest was organic and the mobilisation happened through social media, it appeared that social media messages were taken at face value.
Unfortunately, the protestors chose to ingest fake news and half truths. While the lack of a central leadership was one of the hallmarks of this protest, in the end that became its bane. Even appeals from veteran jallikattu activists were not respected by a section, who continued to occupy the protest venue on Monday.
The demographics of the protesters on Monday were also starkly different from those of the initials days. They were mostly led by locally influential persons. Unlike the initial protestors, they were more stubborn and vigorous in their articulation and demands.
The manner in which the roadblocks were set up suggested that members of political parties too had mingled with the protestors. The police forcibly evicting them in the morning became a trigger. What followed were calls to retaliate against the police high-handedness.
As news about sporadic outbreaks of violence spread, attempts to disperse the crowd were put on hold. Protesters, meanwhile, continued to press their demands and shout nationalistic slogans such as Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata ki Jai, which were never part of the first four days of protest on the Marina. Some speeches were extremely provocative calling for retaliatory attacks against police.
Though it caused dismay among a section of the crowd, the agitators were keen on ensuring their right to continue the protest, which was largely seen as an effort to uphold the Tamil culture and pride.
For the police, the task was easy. All they had to do was to liaison with the locally influential persons and persuade them to disperse the crowd. The police largely managed to achieve success in that by evening. But sporadic violence continued in a few parts of the city till late night.