By Papri Sri Raman and T.S.V. Hari, IANS
Chennai : Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi hurriedly cut short a fast called to demand early completion of the Sethusamudram canal Monday and rushed to office after the Supreme Court threatened to have his government dismissed for letting Tamil Nadu get crippled with an unannounced general strike.
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 Supreme Court was furious that its order banning a state-sponsored ‘bandh’ had been disobeyed.
The judges threatened to slap contempt of court charges against Karunanidhi.
A DMK leader told reporters at the protest site near the cricket stadium in Chepauk area here that Karunanidhi was not feeling well and that he had to meet a doctor. A visibly rattled Karunanidhi clarified to Sun TV as he left that he had not taken on the Supreme Court.
“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 said in remarks clearly directed at the apex court. 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 did not open in Tamil Nadu. Both private and state-owned buses did not ply, with pro-DMK workers gathering outside bus stations. There were few autos and taxis on the roads. Most schools announced a closure fearing violence. Many 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.
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.
On Monday, the apex court followed its order of Sunday by asking the central government why President’s rule could not be imposed in Tamil Nadu if its order prohibiting a strike could not be implemented.
The court was hearing a petition by the state’s main opposition party AIADMK, which said there was a shutdown Monday despite the court fiat.
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 hunger strike in which he took part to demand speedy construction of the Sethusamudram 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.
But even as he sat on the fast, his aides kept whispering to him about the happenings in the Supreme Court. After a while, Karunanidhi decided to call it quits.
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 staging hunger strike in all districts.
Union ministers G.K. Vasan of the Congress and T.R. Baalu of DMK along with PMK founder S. Ramadoss, Tamil Nadu Congress president M. Krishnasamy, 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.
Unaware that the Supreme Court had said no to the shutdown called by DMK, massive crowds thronged the railway stations with people preparing to go out of town to take advantage of two successive holidays (Oct 1 and 2).