Karunanidhi cuts short fast after apex court threat


Chennai/New Delhi : Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi Monday cut short his fast, started in support of the Sethusamudram canal project, after the Supreme Court threatened to have his government dismissed as the state was crippled with an unannounced general strike.

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Having sat on a dais with some 35 ministers and leaders of DMK and allies, the 83-year-old chief minister abruptly ended what was to have been a daylong fast after a little over three hours when he was told that the apex court was furious that its order banning a state-sponsored ‘bandh’ had been disobeyed.

A DMK leader told reporters at the protest site in Chepauk area of Chennai that Karunanidhi was not feeling well and that he was to meet a doctor. A visibly rattled Karunanidhi clarified to Sun TV as he left that he had not taken on the Supreme Court.

Making a special mention before a bench headed by Acting Chief Justice B.N. Agarwal and Justice P. Sathasivam, AIADMK counsel Guru Krishna Kumar said public transport was off the roads despite the bench’s order to the DMK government to desist from enforcing an illegal shutdown.

“This is not merely violation of our order, but a complete breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state,” thundered Justice Agarwal.

“If this is the situation, we will have to direct the central government to impose the president’s rule in the state,” he added firmly.

“If you make out a case for contempt to court, we will not hesitate in summoning even the chief minister and the chief secretary,” the bench said.

The court said that the DMK was an ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in New Delhi. But “if this is the attitude of the DMK, the central government should not feel shy of dismissing it”.

The lawyer for the DMK, however, told the bench that party leaders were on fast and only trade unions could be blamed for the disruption of normal life in the state.

In Chennai, Karunanidhi said: “I am not against the Supreme Court. I have not violated any law. The Supreme Court has not banned us from going on fast.” He then drove straight to his office and later went home.

But by then Tamil Nadu was virtually crippled with a de facto strike quietly enforced by activists of the DMK-led ruling coalition, bringing life to a virtual halt in all parts of the sprawling coastal state.

Most shops and businesses in Tamil Nadu did not open. Both private and state-owned buses did not ply, and pro-DMK workers gathered outside bus stations. There were few autos and taxis on the roads. Most schools announced a closure, fearing violence. At least 34 flights to and from Chennai were cancelled.

“It is a de facto bandh,” a resident of Rameswaram town in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu told IANS. It was the same scene everywhere in Tamil Nadu towns and cities.

In Chennai, young men claiming to be DMK supporters forced the few restaurants and government offices that opened to down their shutters. A chartered accountant in T. Nagar area in Chennai said: “I was having coffee when a few men entered an eatery and asked the owner to either close for the day or see it destroyed.”

At a Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board office also near T. Nagar, a bunch of thugs threatened to strip the few women employees if they did not stop accepting electricity bills from the public.

In his defence, Karunanidhi tried to draw a line between the de facto strike his DMK and its allies did not publicly call for and the fast in which he took part to demand speedy construction of the shipping canal in the sea dividing India and Sri Lanka.

“Communal forces are attempting to stop the Sethu project with an eye to elections,” the chief minister said as he began his protest. “Only people’s power can achieve the Sethusamudram shipping canal,” he told the over 1,000 supporters gathered with him.

“Not only will the people of Tamil Nadu benefit from it, entire Southeast Asia will benefit,” he added.

He sought to clarify: “We have strictly adhered to the Supreme Court’s directives of yesterday. So far, nobody has expressed any comment on the Supreme Court verdict Sunday. We are abiding by the court (order).”

Denying that there was any “constitutional breakdown” in the state and that “normal life was disrupted”, Karunanidhi shot back at reporters questioning him: “or you, there might be, but for us normal life was not affected.”

“Those who were born as Tamils have voluntarily closed their shops,” he added.

The government later released photographs showing the state chief secretary carrying official files to Karunanidhi – to signify that the administration did function Monday.

Similar fasts were observed in other parts of the state, with leaders of DMK and its allies sitting on fasts in all districts.

Union ministers G.K. Vasan of the Congress and T.R. Baalu of the DMK with PMK founder S. Ramadoss, Tamil Nadu Congress president M. Krishnaswamy, CPI-M leader N. Varadarajan, CPI leader D. Raja, Dravida Kazhagam leader K. Veeramani and Dalit Panthers of India founder T. Tirumavalavan were on strike too in Chennai.

Besides, Karunanidhi’s daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, his son and minister M.K. Stalin and senior leaders like K. Anbazhagan also took part in the protest.

While Karunanidhi played safe, Baalu reacted to the judicial intervention. “The judiciary ought to limit itself to legal matters. The courts are not beyond scams and judges can be impeached by parliament,” he said.

Raja added: “Only parliament should decide on people’s welfare and related issues. Courts should not interfere with these.”

However, the Congress was guarded in its reaction and Krishnaswamy said: “This (fast) is not either against the central government or the Supreme Court. This fast is to express people’s sentiments.”