Sterlite Violence: Radical Outfit May Have Fanned Protests

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Radical outfit Makkal Athikaram had launched social media campaign threatening violence.

Intelligence personnel looking into the nature of violence that rocked Tuticorin on Tuesday say that members of some radical outfits had sneaked into the crowd of protesters. These were youths predominantly from Tuticorin and nearby districts.

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had recently taken cognizance of the inflammatory pamphlets circulated by a new outfit, “Makkal Athikaram” which had threatened to unleash violence during the May 22 protest. But the police failed to take the cue.

Sources say that for 100 days the protests against the Sterlite Copper Smelting Unit were peaceful. But on the 100th day, it suddenly turned violent. Promotional videos and a strong campaign on social media by some radical units, especially Makkal Athikaram, had asked people to join the mass protest in large numbers on Tuesday to put pressure on the government to close down Sterlite.

The police too were surprised at the number of protesters. At least 5,000 protesters gathered near the Our Lady of Snows Church in the morning though Section 144 of the CrPC was in force in select areas covering the collectorate and the Sterlite plant.

But when the protesters were not allowed to march to the collectorate, the radical outfits reportedly took over and instigated the crowd. The violence was completely unexpected, a regular protester at the unit. The protesters are introspecting where and what went wrong during the protest, he said and added that the struggle would continue until the copper plant was closed.

But it must be admitted that there was a gross failure of the intelligence agencies in not being able to alert the district administration on the possible violence.

In fact, the intelligence wing of Tamil Nadu police has a long history of bungling in Tuticorin district. In the 1990s, police were taken by surprise when 5,000 villagers assembled at Ilavelangal station in Tuticorin district to block a train in the dead of the night. It took six hours for police to reach the spot.

Sources in the government said the chief minister gave a piece of his mind to senior police officers and intelligence chief K N Sathiyamurthy on Tuesday evening for not informing him about the massive buildup at Tuticorin.