As the crackdown continues in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, by the AIDMK-led state government and its machinery, the controversial saffron-clad yoga teacher turned businessman Baba Ramdev stood in solidarity with Anil Agarwal, the executive chairman of Vedanta - the parent company of Sterlite Industries. On May 22-23 of this year, 13 people who had been protesting for the closure of the Sterlite Copper smelting plant that polluted their air, environment and livelihood, were killed in a police firing.
“It’s been more than a month that the deadly firing took place, but the villagers and protesting youth are still haunted by the state and police. Even today, the police have raided some houses and clearly, they are targeting the people who were leading the struggle. They illegally detain people,” Kanagarajan, one of the persons who are in the forefront of the struggle against Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, told Newsclick.
Ramdev -- a close ally of the BJP -- embraced the Vedanta amidst the continuous struggles to secure the justice for the people fighting against Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi. Negating the lethal attack on people and their massive struggle for existence, the saffron-clad godman framed a conspiracy theory behind the protests in Thoothukudi. Expressing his concerns over Vedanta and its “contributions”, he proclaimed that anti-Sterlite protests were instigated by “foreign conspirators”.
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“International conspirators created ruckus at one of Vedanta’s plant in South of India through innocent local people. Industries are the temples of development for the nation. They should not be closed” tweeted Ramdev after meeting with Agarwal and his family in London.
One week back, Tamil Nadu industries minister informed the assembly that more than 50,000 small and medium “temples” have been closed in last one year at the cost of 5 lakh employment. These were entirely affected by the Centre’s policies, including the demonetisation drive and GST. “Why is he concerned only about this particular Vedanta temple?” asked Kanagarajan.
Embracing Vedanta and its chairman, Ramdev further tweeted: “I salute his contribution in the national building process by creating lacs of jobs and economic prosperity.”
The strong BJP-ally, who found enough space to discredit the protest, hardly finds any context or reference to either the pollution caused by the Plant or the police firing by the AIADMK state government. He even “forgot” to mention Thoothukudi, the place where the Plant is located.
It is no wonder Ramdev, the co-founder of Patanjali, along with Balkrishna, stood in solidarity with another corporate giant Vedanta and its executive chairman. Vedanta, a global diversified metal and mining company, recorded the turnover of Rs 49,390 crore in the financial year of 2017-18. During the financial year 2017, Patanjali with a turnover of Rs 10,561 crore was in close competition with major global brands. Clearly, for Ramdev, the bond between the two corporate giants is stronger than the poor people of Thoothukudi.
Though the Sterlite Plant was closed in May following an order from the government, the company has approached the court asking power supply to the plant. Earlier the govt. had decided to disconnect the power and water supply to the plant. Since there was some leak in the acid plant, Vedanta said that they could attend to the emergency only if they have power in the plant. Pointing out the attempts of Vedanta to reopen the plant, Kanagarajan asked why they don’t use diesel generators to attend to the emergency.
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Further explaining the situations in Thoothukudi, Kanagarajan said: “on the ground, political parties are not allowed to conduct any public programme. They are not even allowed to paste the posters.”
On June 18, Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI (M), held a mass meeting here after getting a positive nod from the court. However, the court had also put forward some conditions, including that the meeting should be conducted between 6 pm and 8 pm and there should be more than 1,000 people in attendance for the gathering. “As the meeting had taken place, the state police approached the court saying that 1,721 people had attended the meeting instead of 1,000. Simply put, they wanted the court to register the case,” he said.
Ahead of the meeting on June 18, the police said that they have arrested 240 people and 33 were in the custody till date. As per the police version, two were arrested under National Security Act (NSA). But according to media, six people have been arrested under NSA. “Right now, there is a talk of invoking Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). If someone gets arrested under the draconian law of UAPA, it’s their duty to prove that they are innocent. In other cases prosecution has to prove that you are guilty. Though they haven’t invoked UAPA so far, the chances are there,” he elaborated the attempts of the state to suppress the struggle of the people.
“It seems that the government was conducting a pilot repression in Thoothukudi. They thought that by terrorizing the people in Thoothukudi, they repress the struggles against Kathiramangalam chemical plant, Salem-Chennai green corridor and various protests in different parts of Tamil Nadu.”