Tamil Secessionists' attack on Army Convoy - Beginning of Anarchy
by B R Haran on 07 May 2009 5 Comments

In a shocking incident on the evening of Saturday, 2 May, several hundred hooligans belonging to the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK) attacked an Army convoy on the Nilambur Bypass Road near Coimbatore. Around 300 army personnel were returning from Hyderabad after completing a three-month training camp, to their headquarters at Madukkarai in Coimbatore via Salem.

Early in the morning, when the convoy of over fifty trucks was passing through Salem, the MDMK and PDK cadres along with goons of Tamil-chauvinist and pro-LTTE outfits like Tamil Desiya Iyakkam and Thamizhaga Ilaignar Iyakkam, attempted to block the bypass, charging that the tanks, weapons, arms and ammunition were being transported to Sri Lanka to aid the Sri Lankan army in its war against the LTTE. Only the timely intervention of the Salem police thwarted attempts to attack the convoy; the police convinced the PDK and MDMK hooligans that the army personnel were returning with only their personal belongings after completing training in Hyderabad.

The unruly mob then spread the word about the travelling army convoy to their cadre in Coimbatore, who now lay in wait for the convoy to reach Coimbatore. In this well-planned plot to attack the army, hundreds of cadres belonging to these parties assembled on the Nilambur bypass road pretending to stage a demonstration. The media, with prior information about the impending clash, gathered to cover the so-called protest demonstration, but did not bother to caution the police.

Despite an alert from the Salem police, the Coimbatore police were not adequately prepared to deal with what followed. The first five trucks were stopped, attacked, tyres deflated, personal belongings like bedrolls, trunk boxes, tents and clothing thrown on the ground and set on fire in wanton destruction. One driver was grievously assaulted. The army personnel ran away to inform the trucks following behind. Other army personnel, who came rushing on hearing about the attack, took safe custody of the weapons, according per eye-witnesses. The witnesses reported retaliation in defense by the army personnel.

Senior police officers arrived with the Rapid Action Force and Armed Reserve Police to control the situation and pacify the army personnel. Some media persons and civilians were allegedly hurt in the melee. Coimbatore police arrested 18 cadres belonging to MDMK, PDK and PUCL and registered cases against them under Sections 147 (unlawful assembly), 148 (unlawful assembly with deadly weapons), 324 (causing grievous hurt) and 294 (b) (using obscene language) of IPC. Members of various media organisations demonstrated against the army personnel for allegedly attacking some of them. They demanded the case be investigated by local police and not referred to Army authorities; hence police registered cases against twenty army personnel as well. Clearly, as in the case of the lawyers’ attack against the police, a section of the media is allied with Tamil secessionists and has positioned itself against our men in uniform - the Army and the Police. 

A scrutiny of the events clearly indicates a pre-conceived and well-executed attack. As the convoy was allowed to continue its journey through Salem and Erode without incident, the police did not expect trouble in Coimbatore. Anticipating lowered defenses of the Coimbatore police, the anti-national forces came well-prepared to attack the convoy in the guise of a protest demonstration. They clearly outnumbered the police and by the time additional forces were summoned, enough damage had been done. There are reports that the mob even attempted to set fire to the fuel tanks of the army trucks.

Initial investigations and interrogation of the apprehended hooligans have confirmed a huge conspiracy behind this daring act. The Sulur Police have registered cases against 250 persons and 19 persons, including Ramakrishnan, general secretary of PDK, Ponchandran of PUCL, and Sivapriyan of Tamil Nationalist Movement. Many hooligans have allegedly escaped to Chennai and Madurai and crossed over to Kerala.

The police were able to identify the culprits and gather evidence against them from complete video recordings collected from media personnel. The police strongly suspect that many culprits could have crossed over to Kerala as pro-LTTE elements have a safe refuge there in the coastal areas. PDK leader Ramakrishnan reputedly has close connections with LTTE boss Prabhakaran, and according to police records, even visited North Lanka to meet him in the 1980s; he reportedly conducted photo-exhibitions on the war-front and sufferings of Lankan Tamils.  

Besides the pro-LTTE and Tamil-chauvinist elements, the involvement of PUCL members gives a different dimension to the issue. The Chennai edition of The Times of India (4 May 2009) reported that PUCL members were involved in the attack. In the past two decades, PUCL is known to have become a front for Naxalites, Maoists and Jihadis, and its sustained campaign against the army in Kashmir and in support of secessionists and militants in the name of human rights, is characteristic of its anti-establishment functioning. It has acted against the governments in Gujarat and Orissa (Kandhamal) in the aftermath of communal riots.

It must be noted that Binayak Sen, PUCL vice president, has been incarcerated in Chattisgarh for allegedly helping Maoists. It has been reported that Kavita Srivastava, secretary PUCL and Rajasthan unit’s general secretary, attended the ‘National Political Conference’ in February 2009 in Calicut, organized by the ‘Popular Front of India,’ an amalgamation of Islamic fundamentalist outfits.

Most PUCL office-bearers are involved in activities helping militant and separatist forces in the name of ‘human rights;’ a majority are ‘advocates.’ K.G. Kannabiran, President PUCL, and celebrities like Suzanne Arundhati Roy, have advocated ‘clemency’ for terrorists like Afzal Guru. The organization gave a tough time to the government and men in uniform in support of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins and sandalwood brigand Veerappan’s aides. 

Maoists and Naxalites have a typical style of executing operations. They normally storm police stations, prisons, attack CRPF vehicles and police camps; of late they have started to hijack trains. The recent incident of hijacking a suburban train in Chennai, resulting in the death of four people and injuries to over a dozen, must be seen in this context. Within days, the attack on the army convoy followed.

This is a clear indication of increasing infiltration by Maoists into Tamil Nadu and their sprouting new fronts in pro-LTTE parties and Tamil-chauvinist outfits. Initial investigations in Coimbatore reveal a clandestine connection between the arrested persons and the LTTE. Some have been involved in smuggling arms, ammunition and spare parts for land mines to the LTTE during the 1980s.

The Maoist-Naxal menace is not new to Tamil Nadu, and in fact it has a history spanning more than three decades. The districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, Theni, Dindigul and Madurai were notorious for Maoist activities and the Maoist-LTTE nexus is known. The LTTE has been training Maoist and Tamil separatist elements and their nexus with sandalwood brigand Veerappan is a violent chapter in Tamil Nadu’s history of ‘Law and Order’.

The ‘Communist Party of India (Maoist)’ was actually formed in September 2004 with the merger of two banned Naxalite parties, namely the ‘Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist)’ and ‘Maoist Communist Centre of India’. As this new formation was given to violent anti-national and anti-social activities, the Tamil Nadu government banned it in July 2005. With the advent of the DMK government in 2006, there has been an alarming increase in LTTE and Maoist activities, and the Chief Minister had to appoint the immensely popular ADGP K. Vijayakumar, former chief of the STF who finally nabbed and killed Veerappan, once again as the Chief of STF, this time to neutralise the Maoists. ADGP Vijayakumar, considered Jayalalithaa’s blue-eyed boy, was relegated to an insignificant department earlier.

As expected, Vijayakumar’s STF and the ‘Q’ branch swung into action and results started to show almost immediately. A dozen Maoists, clandestinely engaged in recruitment of cadres, were captured along with some of their more notorious leaders who had managed to escape police dragnet for years. Among the captured, one was an engineering student (Muthuselvam) and the other a law student (Velmurugan).

When questioned by the police, all those apprehended confessed that they had been recruited by the PWG (People’s War Group) to create a ‘liberated zone’ in the Western Ghats and that they had links with Maoists in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Nepal. Maps of Chennai and Madurai, along with blueprints of vital civilian installations, were seized from them. As the Tamil Nadu police tightened its grip, LTTE sought safe refuge in north Andhra Pradesh. Both LTTE and Maoists have been covertly using many industrial units without the knowledge of the proprietors to make key components for rockets, grenades and mortars and many such consignments have been seized by police in both states. Maoist and LTTE activities, which rose in 2006 and 2007, started to slump in 2008.

But with the imminent decimation of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the politics of Tamil Eelam, combining dangerously with Lok Sabha elections in India, gathered momentum and the DMK government, caught in a dilemma, could not employ demonstrable force against pro-LTTE groups and their violent acts. Church backing for pro-LTTE activities was also a reason for the DMK’s weak response.

This emboldened the pro-LTTE elements to flaunt their affiliations and indulge in blatantly treacherous activities, starting from the lawyers’ unrest, which prevailed for over five months from November 2008 to March 2009. Indeed, the disorder caused by a section of the legal fraternity started with the celebration of LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s birthday in November 2008 inside the Court premises, and culminated with the physical assault on Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy on 27 February and violent clash between lawyers and police on 29 February 2009. The lawyers’ unrest exposed the deep infiltration of Maoist and pro-LTTE elements into the legal fraternity of the state and the clandestine support they get from the Church.

As the pro-LTTE parties failed to induce the student community to rise in support of the LTTE, and as they could not create a massive uprising in support of the LTTE even after stage-managing the self-immolation of a dozen individuals and the lawyers’ unrest, they are frustrated and desperate. The hijacking of the suburban train in Chennai and the attack on the army convoy in Coimbatore is a sign of that desperation. The extraordinary restraint shown by the Army in the face of this outrageous provocation has averted what may have turned into yet another opportunity for the human rights industry, which by definition is fast acquiring the nomenclature of a front for terrorists to castigate our armed forces.

The Army agreed to treat the attack on its convoy as an ‘aberration,’ but warned that troops would retaliate in self-defence as per law if such incidents recurred. Maj-Gen. E.J. Kochekkan, General Officer in Commanding, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala area,  said the troops had “practiced restraint” when the pro-LTTE elements attacked the convoy on May 2. He warned, “The incident is an aberration and not a threat per se. It should not be repeated. If such incidents became a pattern, active measures will have to be adopted and when it gets adopted, then the results could be much worse and catastrophic. It must be avoided at all costs. If it continues, troops will take action in self-defence as the law permits.”

Barring State Congress leaders, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, and Hindu Munnani president Ramagopalan, no political leader, even from the BJP, condemned the attack on the army convoy. MDMK President Vaiko, whose cadres were behind these dastardly acts, was conspicuously silent, as was his leader Jayalalithaa, who waxed eloquent about her patriotism in response to Kapil Sibal’s barb against her seditious demand for Tamil Eelam. Jayalalithaa spoke of an unrealistic Indian military operation against Sri Lanka. Adding insult to injury, their alliance partner and CPI leader Thomas Pandian condemned the arrest of MDMK/ PDK/ PUCL goons!

While Dr. Swamy sought the immediate attention of the Election Commission, Coimbatore-based Congress leader S.R. Balasubramaniam lodged a complaint with the Inspector General of Police West Zone, demanding that the arrested culprits belonging to MDMK/PDK/PUCL be charged for attempted murder. He rightly felt that the incident exposed a deep-rooted conspiracy of several organisations known for their secessionist ideology and reflected a clear intention to cause hatred against the Indian State and the Tamil Nadu government.

It may be noted that the PDK has been clandestinely distributing CD materials in support of LTTE throughout the state; the Congress has objected to the Election Commission. PDK president Kolathur Mani was recently imprisoned under NSA for seditious speech. It is high time the government banned this anti-national organization.  

Though TNCC President Thangkabalu and Union Minister G K Vasan condemned the incident, the Congress high command preferred silence so as not to embarrass ally DMK. Hence the Prime Minister also kept quiet and the Defence Minister remained mute. The mainstream electronic media, which repeatedly aired and debated the inconsequential attack on a third-rate pub for more than 72 hours, preferred silence on the attack on the army convoy. This speaks volumes about the Medias’ understanding of national security.

That this violent attack on an Army convoy is not receiving the attention it deserves is cause for great misgiving. Yet what else can one expect of a government and a media which is essentially run on an NGO agenda. This agenda does not respect national soldiers and shamelessly accepts with equanimity the medals which our soldiers returned a few months ago in anger and frustration. 

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai

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