Amid a spate of arrests of prominent personalities in Tamil Nadu, Union minister from the state Pon Radhakrishnan has alleged that there is a Maoist angle to the unrest and protests. Maoists, he said, have infiltrated multiple spheres and unrest is brewing in the state because the government of E Palaniswami has not taken proper action.
The call for strong hand tactics has caused concern among activists, who already expressed fear that the state is turning into a police state, bent on violating the rights of citizens. There are concerns that anyone raising voice against the government -- environmentalists, advocates, rights activists, students, even farmers and journalists -- will be labelled and targeted.
"Extremists have infiltrated into many sections in Tamil Nadu -- political parties, even media... the Chief Minister must give a free hand to the police to act and clean this up," said Mr Radhakrishnan, who earlier alleged that even the protests over lifting the ban on the annual bull-taming sport Jallikattu was a dry run for urban Maoists.
Besides Jallikattu, over the last months, the state has witnessed protests over a Sterlite plant at Tuticorin, appointment of vice-chancellors to prominent Universities, National Eligibility Entrance Tests for admission to medical colleges and most recently, over a proposed 10,000 crore-rupee 8-lane expressway between Chennai and Salem.
On Wednesday, advocate Vanchinathan was arrested on accusations of inciting trouble, rioting and criminal intimidation during last month's anti-Sterlite protests in Tuticorin. The First Information Report against him was filed long before the firing and violence in Tuticorin.
Yesterday, actor Nilani was sent to 15 days in jail for allegedly impersonating the police. This was for a video she had put out dressed as a police officer, soon after the Tuticorin firing incident, voicing her protest against the violence in Thoothukudi. She had clarified in the video that she was dressed like that for a shooting, but was ashamed to wear the uniform.
The list also includes environment activist Piyush Manush, actor Mansoor Ali Khan, student activist Valarmathi and several farmers who had opposed an 8-lane highway project between Salem and Chennai and the expansion of the airport.
Rights activist Henry Tiphagne said the recent arrests seem to suggest there is no longer a democratic government in place that follows the rule of law.
Pon Radhakrishnan has made this allegation earlier as well. In February, while addressing a gathering to mark 20 years of serial blasts in Coimbatore in which 52 people were killed, he said Maoists, Naxals, Islamic terrorists and extremists espousing the separate Tamil cause were becoming active in Tamil Nadu. He claimed the state government was not acting on his warnings.
Tamil Nadu minister D. Jayakumar refuted the Union minister's serious allegations, saying it was irresponsible. "If he has such information, he should share it with us and not disclose it publicly,'' he said.
Similar arrests have taken place in other parts of the country, following what the police say is a fresh Maoist upsurge, especially in urban areas.
Earlier this month, five people were arrested from four states over January's caste-related violence in Maharashtra's Bhima-Koregaon. The list included activists Roma Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen and lawyer Surendra Gadling. With the arrests, the police claimed to uncover a Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a blog today, Union minister Arun Jaitley flagged concerns over internal security, and said Maoists were the other source of threat to the country apart from terrorists. Though Maoist insurgents, he said, are primarily in some of the tribal districts in central India, "their ideological supporters are spread out in various parts of the country."
"The Maoist sponsored human rights organisations only espouse the cause of separatism and violence - be it Kashmir or Chhattisgarh. They have brought a bad name to a very precious and valuable concept of human rights. Their international affiliates are no different," the minister further wrote.