| Karat with the CPI’s D. Raja and other Left leaders during the protest against the naval exercises on Wednesday. (PTI)
Chennai, Sept. 5: In a red-bordered dhoti instead of his usual trousers, Prakash Karat had made sure he was dressed right to lead a jatha against America.
“We take a pledge that we will launch a struggle against India being made an ally of US imperialism,” the CPM general secretary thundered, in English.
The large crowd of Left supporters, gathered for the flag-off of the jatha against the Bay of Bengal war games of which the US is a part, broke into applause — after the speech had been translated into Tamil by Karat’s CPM colleagues.
A little while later, a tempo plastered with banners denouncing “Uncle Sam” rolled out on its way to Visakhapatnam.
The choice of venue for the flag-off could not have been better — Madras Harbour, where a statue of freedom fighter V.. Chidambaram Pillai stands. Pillai had started the first indigenous shipping service, the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, in 1906 to break British monopoly in coastal trade with what was then Ceylon.
Karat pointed at the “irony”: Pillai had started the first swadeshi shipping company and suffered terrible ordeals and imprisonment “to break the monopoly of British imperialism”, he said, still speaking in English. “Today our rulers are inviting these imperialists to bring their ships here.”
The timing was the masterstroke — since the jatha flag-off coincided with the 136th birth anniversary of the nationalist leader, many DMK ministers were at Madras Harbour in the morning, triggering speculation whether they were at the site to cheer the Left protest against the nuclear deal and the war games.
It was later clarified that the ministers had trooped to Madras Harbour for a government function to mark Pillai’s birth anniversary. Only after they had left did Karat arrive, accompanied by state CPM secretary N. Varadarajan, and was joined by CPI national secretary D. Raja.
Two Left jathas — the other from Calcutta — will converge on the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam to protest against the war games.
Joined by hundreds of vehicles on which the CPM flag fluttered, Karat’s tempo made its way through crowded north Chennai before hitting the national highway. The convoy stopped at several places — such as Red Hills and Gummidipoondi on the border with Andhra Pradesh — where the CPM had organised small reception committees.
At every stop, Karat addressed brief meetings. The Americans have brought the Seventh Fleet, he said, which 36 years ago they had sent to India “to threaten our country when the liberation struggle of Bangladesh was taking place”.
“It is now a matter of shame that the Indian Navy is being asked to conduct joint exercises with this Seventh Fleet,” he added.
The CPM general secretary also attacked the government for “deciding to conclude” the nuclear agreement with the US and accused it of pursuing economic policies which were “in the interests of America”.