It was business as usual on Tuesday morning at Chennai’s New Woodlands Hotel that was attacked by members of a pro-Tamil group over the ongoing Cauvery dispute that has stoked violence across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The attackers threw what eyewitnesses described as “petrol bombs” through the windows of an ice cream parlour, and left a note in Tamil warning of further incidents if “Tamilians living in Karnataka continue to be assaulted”.
Breakfast at the hotel, which is part of the Karnataka-based Udupi group, was marked by hushed conversations about the Cauvery issue, which has plagued the two states for decades, as well as the tit for tat attacks that occurred on Monday.
Diners and residents of the hotel calmly tucked into their ghee roast dosas and filter coffees as if nothing untoward had happened, while servers stood at attention awaiting orders.
The only difference in the usual routine of the well-known hotel was the extra security guard at the door and the police checkpoint stationed outside its main entrance.
It is clear that no one expects a repeat of the attack, with one waiter dismissing a cleaning staff’s concerns with a nonchalant reply reminiscent of Rajinikanth’s latest film, Kabali: “Bayema? Chance illai.” (Am I afraid? Not a chance.)
“If we could solve the Cauvery issue without fighting that would be wonderful of course,” a server at the hotel said when asked about the attack. “But afraid? No, nothing like that. This is usually what happens when it comes to the Cauvery dispute, but nothing will happen.”
But across the state, the official mood is tense with a large number of police checkpoints across the city to prevent any further attacks. Tamil Nadu director general of police TK Rajendran deployed armed police units and quick response teams across the state border with Karnataka and interstate buses were halted temporarily.
More than 2,500 policemen were deployed to areas of “high sensitivity”, including Kannadiga owned businesses and localities, according to Chennai commissioner of police S George.
Though the protests in Tamil Nadu have been largely peaceful, in Karnataka there have been several instances of violence by groups not affiliated with farmers’ organisations or other official groups. More than 30 private buses owned by a private contractor in Tamil Nadu were set alight in Bengaluru on Monday night.
There have been no reported incidents of violence on Tuesday in the state.
Several men have been arrested in connection with the attack on the New Woodlands Hotel in which no one was harmed. In Ramanathapuram district, 8 men belonging to three pro-Tamil outfits were arrested for vandalising five vehicles bearing Karnataka registration plates.
While the violence in Tamil Nadu has been minimal as compared to Karnataka, experts fear that local political parties may try and capitalise on the Cauvery crisis for political favour, especially with the upcoming local body elections later this year.
The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a caste-based outfit with a strong presence in the border districts of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri, has already issued a statement, with former Union minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss calling the SC verdict a victory for Tamil Nadu and petitioning Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah to protect Tamils living in the state.
Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa had on Monday assured her Karnataka counterpart that police would be deployed to ensure the safety of Kannadigas living in Chennai, as well as stating her concern over “the serious condition in Karnataka with several instances of mob violence targeting Tamil speaking persons and their properties.”
The protests by Tamil groups are in response to the dissent by farmers and pro-Kannada outfits in several parts of Karnataka after the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu every day until September 20.