Superstar Rajinikanth has been summoned to help with the investigation into the 2018 violence at the Sterlite factory in Tuticorin -- officially called Thoothukudi -- over a remark that was seen to justify police use of excessive force on protesters. Thirteen people had died as protesters demanding permanent closure of Vedanta's Sterlite copper smelting plant, had clashed with the police.
The one-woman judicial panel investigating the case has now summoned Rajinikanth to inquire about his remark that "anti-social elements" had infiltrated the protest. Retired judge Aruna Jagadeesan had summoned Rajinikanth earlier as well, but the actor had sought exemption from appearance.
Mirroring the line of Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK government, Rajinikanth had blamed anti-social elements for the deaths and asked the state government to "come down hard" on them.
It had hugely upset the locals, who had accused the police of attacking protesters and torching vehicles to create a situation to open fire.
Asked why he was blaming anti-socials, Rajinikanth had lost his cool. "Don't ask me how I know, I know all of that," he had told reporters.
He had added that he would not accept anyone who harms people in uniform and dismissed protests against police excesses, saying people should not resort to protests over everything.
"If people go out and start protests for everything, then entire Tamil Nadu will become a graveyard," said the actor, who had announced his intention to join politics shortly before.
As his statement set off a huge controversy, the actor had expressed regret. "I regret if I had hurt anyone," he had said, without explaining or withdrawing the "anti-social" remark.
The 2018 protests were the most deadly environmental protests in India since the death of 14 people in West Bengal's Nandigram in 2007, where protests were being held against the government's plan to acquire land for industries.