Traders downed shutters in large parts of Tamil Nadu, particularly in the rural districts, as the State-wide ‘bandh’ called by opposition parties demanding immediate “stopping of the war” against the Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka evoked a mixed response amid sporadic incidents of violence.
A brazen attack on the Veteran Congress MLA and a vocal critic of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr C Gnanasekharan’s office in his Vellore constituency, 175 km from Chennai, smashing 30-odd transport buses in stone-pelting, burning of Sri Lankan President Rajapakshe’s effigy in the city and ransacking of a bicycle shop kept open near the Madras High Court, besides a few other violent incidents, marked the ‘bandh’, which by and large did not affect normal life in the State.
While State and Central Government offices functioned normally and public transport bus and rail services plied, the ‘bandh’ called by the ‘Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Movement (STPM) to express solidarity with the suffering Island-Tamils, evoked a “good response”, substantially among the trading community.
Police and Trade sources said that the closure of shops and commercial establishments was marked mostly in the districts of Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Vellore, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur, Dindigul, Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Kanniyakumari. Shops in suburban areas and some parts of North Chennai were also shut, but the ‘bandh’ call evoked poor response in the heart of the city. Though many of the hotels and restaurants were closed fearing possible attacks, banks and other commercial establishments remained open in the metropolis.
‘Some miscreants used glass bottles and heavy marbles to attack my office and strewn around it were pamphlets by the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), abusing the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and attacking the Central Government for failing to protect the Sri Lankan Tamils,” Mr Gananasekharan told HT over phone today.
An FIR has been registered in Vellore, even as activists of PMK and MDMK, both part of the STPM, blocked the Union Minister for Panchayati Raj Administration, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s car near the ‘Kollidam river’ bridge on way to his Mayiladuthurai constituency last evening and showed black flags, protesting the Centre’s inaction.
In Chennai advocates boycotting courts for the fourth day on Wednesday went in a procession raising slogans and at one stage Police had to intervene to avoid a clash. In all, nearly 1000 protestors including students and two CPI MLAs’ were arrested across the State.
The CPI is also part of the STPM, but the CPI (M) kept out of it. The ruling DMK, its key ally, the Congress and the main opposition AIADMK did not support the ‘bandh’ call, even as the DMK Government declared it was “illegal”. The Chief Secretary’s warning forced some of the State Government Employees Unions to back out of the ‘bandh’.
In the hosiery town of Tiruppur, where CPI is strong, nearly five lakh workers of the private knitwear units kept away from work today, in respond to the ‘bandh’ call. In some districts of Tamil Nadu, cinema theatres had also cancelled noon and matinee shows.
The STPM convenor and the Tamil Nationalists Movement leader, Mr P Nedumaran said a “large cross-section of the people” spontaneously responding to the ‘bandh’ call, showed that the people wanted immediate ceasefire in North Sri Lanka.
Claiming it as a “moral victory” for the STPM, the MDMK spokesman, Mr G Nanmaran told HT that “despite the strong threat from the State Government and Police, people, except in Chennai have volunteered to support the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.”
But both among the politicos and civil society, many voices opposed it. “The bandh is unwarranted,” senior Congress Minister from Tamil Nadu in the UPA, Mr EVKS Elangovan, Minister of State for Textiles, shot back here today. “What is needed is for the LTTE to lay down its arms, surrender and allow free passage for the Tamil civilians in North Sri Lanka to move into no-war zones,” Mr Elangovan said, mincing no words.
“The bandh is totally uncalled for,” said Mr. GP Jayakumar, a senior communication professional in the city. “Why should you break your head over language? It is only to show the political strength of some political parties,” he told HT.
“It is the public who suffer a lot from such bandh-calls for even the State buses were on the roads today with much less frequency,” said a woman executive of a private bank in Chennai, who did not wish to be named. “I sympathize with the Sri Lankan Tamils cause, but the ‘bandh’ is unnecessary as it causes losses to the people,” said Mr. Koteeshwaran, a Customer Care Executive with a leading retailer in Chennai.