Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palniswami defended the AIADMK govt’s decision to allow the yatra and accused the opposition of trying to give political colour.
A VHP-backed yatra aimed at mobilising support for a Ram temple in Ayodhya entered Tamil Nadu on Monday amid opposition by DMK, pro-Tamil and some Muslim outfits that claimed it would disturb communal amity.
Showering petals, hundreds of devotees and cadres of Hindu outfits welcomed the “Ram Rajya Rath Yatra” as it entered Shencottah in Tirunelveli District from neighbouring Kerala.
Some activists, including those from the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), threatened to block the yatra, which left Ayodhya on Feb 13 and traversed through six states.
Police said they arrested over 300 people, including Thirumavalavan of VCK and Jawahirullah of MMK, for violating ban orders and proceeding to block the yatra.
Chief Minister K Palniswami defended the AIADMK government’s decision to allow the yatra in the state, saying all religions have equal rights and accused the opposition of trying to give political colour.
Actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan criticised the permission granted to the yatra, saying it had been taken up with “a divisive political agenda”.
‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth, who is set to enter active politics, struck a note of caution, saying any kind of communal tension should be prevented.
Tight security was provided as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-backed yatra entered the state.
DMK raised the issue in the state assembly stalling proceedings before its members led by Leader of the Opposition M K Stalin were evicted en masse as they kept protesting even after the chief minister’s reply.
Stalin then sat on a protest along with party MLAs near the assembly, but police removed and briefly detained them in a marriage hall before releasing all.
“The yatra has entered Tamil Nadu today… permission has been given for yatra organisers who have planned to instigate communal riots,” Stalin alleged.
When the Supreme Court was seized of the Ram temple case, organising a yatra to construct the shrine “is contempt of the top court,” he claimed talking to reporters.
He also sought to know whether the state government was run by “the AIADMK or the BJP.”
Defending permission for the yatra, Palaniswami told the assembly: “As regards Tamil Nadu, all religions have equal rights. Nobody can ban it. This is a democratic country and no religion can be differentiated.”
After covering districts including Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari and entering Rameswaram on March 22, the yatra, being organised by Shri Ramdasa Mission Universal Society, will reach Tiruvananthapuram a day later, he said.
Deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam said if communally provocative or divisive words were used in the yatra, the government would take stern action.
Pointing out that Left ruled Kerala and Congress governed Karnataka had allowed the yatra, he asked the Congress members to ponder if it was appropriate for them to join hands with the DMK on the matter.
Congress MLAs staged a walk out and sat on the road near the secretariat opposing the yatra.
Protests were held in Chennai, Ambur, Vellore, Tirunelveli and some other places in the state against the yatra by the cadres of parties including DMK, VCK, and some Muslim outfits.
A strong contingent of police led by district SP Arun Sakthi Kumar had been deployed for security duty in the district, they said.
Police warned against meetings or demonstrations against the yatra for which due permission has been given.
BJP Tamil Nadu unit president Tamilisai Soundarajan said the yatra was facing opposition only in Tamil Nadu. Hailing Tamil Nadu as a land nurtured by spiritual gurus, she questioned why there should be opposition to it.
Rajinikanth said Tamil Nadu was secular and “police should protect communal harmony… I am confident that our government will definitely do it… It (Rath yatra) should not give room for any communal flare-up and protecting the harmony is important,” he told reporters.
Makkal Neethi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan, charged that the state government was “dancing to someone else’s tune”.
In a tweet, he said “Voices for social harmony being throttled with 144 (ban orders) & arrests. Procession with divisive political agenda allowed with protection” and accused the state government of “dancing to someone else’s tune”.
The yatra is slated to reach Rameswaram after covering Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka among other states.