Chennai, Oct. 21: Nearly 75,000 DMK supporters, who defied a police warning and a heavy drizzle, were today arrested while trying to picket government offices in protest against the “anti-people policies” of the Jayalalithaa regime.
Led by former Chennai mayor and youth wing leader M.K. Stalin from an open jeep, batch after batch of feisty volunteers and party workers courted arrest near the Chennai collectorate over four hours this afternoon. Stalin cheered them on and shook hands with them before he was himself taken into custody.
“This is our first warning to the government,” said Stalin about the first major statewide agitation undertaken by the DMK’s youth wing. “We urge the government to rectify its mistakes and stop its repression,” he added, amid vociferous shouting of slogans and waving of anti-Jayalalithaa placards by DMK loyalists.
The DMK is protesting against a slew of recent state government measures, including a hike in the prices of PDS rice, several allegedly anti-farmer moves and the promulgation of an Ordinance to ban forcible conversions.
Today’s picketing programme was undeterred by the thousands of preventive arrests made by police yesterday. Quoting a pithy Tamil proverb as streams of defiant partymen sat on dharna, Stalin said the ADMK’s tactics to scupper the agitation would not work: “Can a wedding be stopped just by hiding the bride’s comb'”
Several MPs, MLAs and former ministers were among the thousands picked up. Late in the evening, all those arrested were set free by the police.
The agitation, which gives Stalin a new political profile after he was stripped of mayorship two months ago, has thrust him into direct confrontation with the ADMK. The party’s senior leadership appears to have taken a back seat this time. The picketing also gains significance in the backdrop of Tamil superstar Rajnikant’s bid last week to enter politics via a one-day hungerstrike over the Cauvery waters.
The DMK leadership appears to have realised that if Stalin is not thrust into the forefront of the political arena now, non-political personalities could hijack the centrestage. This is the first time that Stalin has taken part in a people’s protest since he was stripped of mayorship.
In the evening, DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi thanked the party cadre and the people for making the protest a “total success”. Stalin warned that the DMK’s youth wing would take to the streets if the anti-conversion Ordinance was not rolled back.