Till Sunday, everyone was raving about the Mr Nice Guys of Chennai who were protesting peacefully at the Marina beach. No one was drunk, no one was teasing the women who had turned up in large numbers, there were no cases of molestation or chain snatching reported either. Anuvairam, a B Tech student told me her mother felt no worry sending her to this sea of humanity. "This is Chennai, all the men here have behaved impeccably," she told me, to loud cheers from the assembled male crowd.
So were the men of Chennai wolves in sheep's clothing? How did the nice guys suddenly transform into stone-pelters and arsonists overnight?
They did not as you would have realised if you were on the ground in Chennai or saw the videos that have surfaced from different parts of Chennai.
Looking at the body language of those who indulged in stone-pelting or vandalism or road blockade, it was pretty obvious these were not the students who formed the bulk of the crowds at the Marina until Sunday. These are anti-social elements, paid by someone out to create mischief. A majority of them were drunk, probably high on easy money that had been provided. "We want Jallikattu'' slogans were raised to lend credibility.
The students on the contrary, shocked by the manner in which they were pushed out of the Marina Beach area, were even scared to talk to the media. Engineering students were more worried about disciplinary action they might face if they spoke against the police.
There was no such fear among those who indulged in arson. It was obvious there was a clear attempt to foment trouble through anti-social elements. Sources indicate that the task of organising these road blockades and arson was outsourced ward-wise, to local political heavyweights. It was micromanaged to ensure maximum impact and they knew exactly how to bring a city to a standstill. Chennai saw the fear-doctors at work.
I was present when the first signs of trouble broke out on Ice House Road when an argument over locals being denied entry turned ugly. The crowd went back and start pelting stones at the cops. One of the stones hit R Ananth Kumar, a head constable and he started bleeding. This area which is also called Ayodhyakuppam has a reputation for being a troubled spot where miscreants are according to the police, available for a price. It is surprising that the police knew this and yet did not prepare for an eventuality of this kind. They did not even have helmets for protection and relied on blankets to protect themselves.
After the first rain of stones, the mood in the khaki camp turned aggressive and they went after the miscreants with a vengeance, resorting to lathi charges and teargas shelling.
The miscreants were prepared to indulge in arson. Vehicles parked outside the Ice House Police Station were set ablaze — the attempt clearly to show a red rag to the cops. The men in uniform rushing in more forces, caned anyone who came in sight. Dustbins and tyres were burnt by arsonists. Chennai was in panic, with schools closing early only to realise that troublemakers had blocked most roads, leading to traffic jams all over the city.
In the Teynampet area, one of the central parts of Chennai, traffic was blocked for over three hours, with the police looking the other way. Miscreants climbed on top of buses, shouting slogans. It was only much later that the cops decided to give those blocking the roads the treatment. The locals hit back showering the building where some of the cops were hiding, with stones and glass bottles.
But the anti-social elements were not the only ones who charred Chennai. The police too, surprisingly, indulged in pretty much the same. Videos of policemen breaking car window panes, setting vehicles on fire have surfaced. The Chennai police commissioner doubts the authenticity of these videos, calling them morphed but the pictures taken at face value, tell the story.
Why would the police want to create trouble, one would wonder. One possible theory could be that it has been done to blame it on the students, to discredit the protest. So that there is no more attempt made to hold the political class and a city to ransom with an uprising of this kind.
Politicians, irrespective of the party to which they belong, resented the fact that the youth had emerged as an X-factor where by sheer power of numbers and connect, they could force the executive to bring the ordinance and convert it into an Act. If not nipped in the bud, this would threaten to threaten the very existence of the traditional parties in Tamil Nadu. Many of the activists in the protest group had already cut their teeth in social service by helping out people during the December 2015 floods when the government was found wanting.
For six days, the top cop was complimenting the manner in which the protesters behaved themselves at the Marina. But on Day Seven, the crackdown was justified saying anti-nationals had taken over. It was seen as the usual ploy to justify the police treatment. Indeed there were placards heralding LTTE's Prabhakaran and also calls for celebrating Republic Day as a Black Day. But was evidence at hand sufficient to say anti-national elements had infiltrated the protest?
The jury is still out on that.
Updated Date: Jan 24, 2017 11:35 AM