The incumbent AIADMK regime led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami was not the first to face the wrath of the people for alleged police excesses. It appears Sathankulam double murder and Thoothukudi police firing during the incumbent regime might not be the last either.
Such is the dubious political history of the State that almost every chief minister in the last 60 plus years had faced public displeasure for allowing the police to have a free run. The likes of M Karunanidhi, J Jayalalithaa and MGR had endured political pressure owing to police excesses during their regimes.
If the police-lawyer clash on Madras High Court premises in 2009 in the height of pro-Eelam protests and Manjolai riots in July 1999 were a blemish on Karunanidhi’s long reign, the September 2011 police firing against Dalits during Immanuel Sekaran anniversary in Paramakudi and unleashing cops on lakhs of government employees by invoking TESMA during 2001-06 Jayalalithaa regime became a talking point of the State politics during the AIADMK tenure. Both leaders had to do some difficult answering in the subsequent elections for the incidents.
Unlike Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, MGR’s cup of woes overflew, thanks to policemen at the helm who had done enough for the regime to go on a PR overdrive. The infamous crackdown on farmers, which reportedly claimed five lives during the farmers’ agitation led by Narayanasamy Naidu in his first tenure (1977-80) as chief minister, and killing of fishermen in police firing during the Mandaikadu riots in Kanniyakumari in the second tenure (1980-84) and the fatal police firing that claimed dozen and a half Vanniyar lives in the MBC protests in the final tenure (1984-87) were something even the mighty matinee idol-turned-CM found a bit too politically hot to handle then.
Old-timers like Dravidian scholar K Thirunavukkarasu argue that the police demeanours were no different during the pre-Dravidian reign of the Congress either. “Police were the same even during Kamaraj period. The only difference was that the Home portfolio was not the preserve of the Chief Minister then. Kakkan was the Home Minister in Kamaraj tenure. It changed only since the days of Anna, who kept the police department to himself. Since then, it became an unwritten rule that the CM would retain the Home portfolio. That is why the Madras High Court ruling in Sathankulam case was a personal criticism on Chief Minister Palaniswami.” “Police firings and custodial deaths have happened in the past too. In Sathankulam case, the High Court intervention resulted in police undoing its wrongdoings. Police were never booked for murder in custodial death cases. For the first time, the Revenue department took control of a police station and cops have been booked for murder. If the case is probed thoroughly and reaches a logical conclusion, it could set a precedence for the future,” Thirunavukkarasu argued.
Political analyst Ravindran Duraisamy said: “Irrespective of political differences, police have always been with the oppressor as against the oppressed. Be it the DMK or AIADMK or Congress, police always sided with the oppressors. Their excesses have become political issues whenever the victims belonged to a community with political influence.”