CHENNAI: What began as a disconnected campaign and transformed into a carnival on the sands of Marina descended into chaos after the hardline fringe hijacked the protest for jallikattu and refused to relent, leading to a pitched battle with the police that stopped Chennai on its tracks on Monday.
At the end of the day, there were several casualties in the battle on both sides. But with the key persons dissociating themselves from the protest since Sunday, there was none to assume responsibility for this chaos that this leaderless uprising spiralled into.
Even as the Assembly session began in the morning where the Bill, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, was to be introduced, what has till now been a peaceful, passive occupation exploded into sporadic but intense street battle at various spots.
After being stopped before they could join the sit-in at the beach, various groups, whom the city Police Commissioner described as anti-social elements with vested interest, began setting up roadblocks with objects including burning vehicles, and pelted stones and glass bottles at the police. Ice House police station near the beach came under arson attack, with a few personnel including women trapped inside. In all, over 50 police vehicles were damaged, besides government and private vehicles.
While they showed restraint in handling the crowd at Marina that came with intense media coverage, videos shot on mobile phones emerged later in the evening, which showed personnel setting fire to auto-rickshaws, vandalising vehicles and terrorising neighbourhoods. In the battle for no man’s land that the city became, the men in khaki wanted to establish supremacy with order if not law.
The hardline outfits – some of them distrust Indian democracy while the others don’t believe in democracy itself – acted as was expected. More damaging was the opposition parties’ reluctance to explain to the crowd the basics of Constitution and Parliamentary system.
There were statements condemning police highhandedness from almost all parties, but none asking for withdrawal of protests. Instead, a few of them hit the streets with their own protest.
Union minister and BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu directly accused the DMK and Congress of politically exploiting the situation to spread an anti-Centre feeling. It finally took a retired High Court justice to explain the legal terms. The worst casualty, however, is the discredit the day brought to a campaign that had given hopes of a new wave of non-violent youth assertion.