Chennai, Jan. 21: Tamil Nadu is no stranger to protesting chief ministers. It has had three who resorted to public protest while in the hot seat, and all three joined politics after a stint in films.
M.G. Ramachandran, disciple Jayalalithaa and political rival Karunanidhi have all sat on hunger strike as chief ministers, although for different reasons.
In 1982, MGR abruptly announced in the Assembly that he would fast for a day to protest the Indira Gandhi regime’s refusal to allocate more rice to his state from the central pool. His government had started the mid-day meal scheme for school children, which put a huge strain on Tamil Nadu’s rice reserves.
The next day, MGR arrived at the Anna samadhi on Marina Beach and observed a breakfast-to-dinner fast from 9am to 5pm. Indira Gandhi was furious but state Congress leaders keen to revive ties with the AIADMK convinced her to announce more rice for Tamil Nadu. MGR termed this a victory and sipped fruit juice at 5pm.
In 1993, Jayalalithaa went on a similarly dramatic fast at the MGR samadhi, which is next to the Anna samadhi. Her demand was that the Centre should appoint a monitoring committee to oversee implementation of the Cauvery tribunal’s interim award of 205 TMC water by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
The AIADMK made a big show by bringing cadres from across the state to express support for Jayalalithaa as she fasted for three days and two nights, lying on a cot brought from her house. Regular medical bulletins were issued by the state health secretary. A caravan with a washroom was parked close to the fasting venue.
The Narasimha Rao regime finally sent then Union water resources minister V.C. Shukla to Tamil Nadu with the assurance that a monitoring committee would be announced in good time. Jayalalithaa then sipped orange juice handed to her by Shukla. The committee was set up months later.
Karunanidhi’s fast in April 2009 was the most hilarious. At the height of Sri Lanka’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers, he went on a fast at the Anna samadhi to demand that Delhi pressure Colombo to halt the war immediately. Since the DMK was part of UPA-I, which was backing Lanka’s war, Karunanidhi needed a political gimmick to prove his sincerity in saving Lankan Tamils.
After reaching the fast venue around 6am, Karunanidhi asked his staff to place his motorised wheelchair near the memorial. He then instructed his security guard to inform the director-general of police that he was going on a fast-unto-death to stop the Eelam war.
Soon, perplexed party leaders and anxious family members gathered around him. A cot was fetched from his residence so he could stretch out. His wives, Dayalu and Rajathi, sat at either end of the cot. His sons and daughters looked worried.
Once the TV cameras started rolling, Karunanidhi declared: “Let me become another victim of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s war.”
Karunanidhi, who received several calls on his mobile soon after, called off his fast by noon. He termed it a “success”, saying that then home minister P. Chidambaram had informed him that Lanka had assured India it would cease hostilities using heavy weapons.
The fast was later dubbed a “joke” played out at the cost of Lankan Tamils, since Rajapakse anyway destroyed the Tamil Tigers using heavy weapons. Hundreds of Tamil civilians were used as human shields by the Tigers. Even today, Karunanidhi’s breakfast-to-lunch fast is the butt of ridicule.