State-sponsored terror, says Rahul after several die in police firing in TN Sterlite protest
In Tuticorin, a port city nestled just above India's southern tip, they pelted police officials with stones, destroyed public property, and set vehicles ablaze - the headspring of their ire a copper smelting plant which locals say is polluting groundwater.
The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 22, 2018
The police opened fire. A state government minister explained that in the circumstances, it was unavoidable.
But when nine people were reported dead, Rahul Gandhi decried - to an audience composed of millions of Twitter users - "a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism".
Those who were killed "were murdered for protesting against injustice", he wrote. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured."
Gandhi's language was strong, but not entirely unsurprising: His Congress party is represented by eight state legislators in Tamil Nadu's Opposition bloc, and the AIADMK government has been accused of being a proxy for his great political foe: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP administration.
He wasn't alone in condemning the police action. MK Stalin, the Leader of the Opposition, denounced what he called an indiscriminate attack on the public, and several other parties took aim at Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami's government.
Rajinikanth, the actor-turned-politician, blamed both the violence and the loss of lives squarely on the state government, in comments he posted on his Twitter page. He described the administration as one "that doesn't respect the sentiments of the people".
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— Rajinikanth (@rajinikanth) 22 May 2018
JAYAKUMAR DEFENDS GOVT
The protesters wanted a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity Sterlite Copper plant -- a property of Vedanta -- to be closed down, and were against its expansion.
D Jayakumar, Tamil Nadu's fisheries minister, said the AIADMK government moved the Supreme Court (when it was led by the late Jayalalithaa) against a green tribunal order allowing the plant to function, and that the petition was pending.
He said the government hadn't given the license for the plant's expansion.
"There is no support by the Amma [Tamil for "mother", and a term used to refer to Jayalalithaa] government to any project that is not desired by [the] people," he said.
Inputs from Akshaya Nath and PTI