Row over Tamil Nadu governor’s remarks on Sterlite protests.

TN governor’s remarks drew sharp reactions from the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the protesters, “who vowed to stage a stir against the governor”.

Tamil Nadu governor, R N Ravi, sparked another controversy on Thursday when he said that the 2018 anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi were “foreign-funded”.

His remarks drew sharp reactions from the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the protesters, “who vowed to stage a stir against the governor”.

“Sterlite protest, it was purely foreign-funded, and the entire activities which led to the protest and the unfortunate police firing that cost innocent lives,” the governor said, responding to a question on Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) violations during an event at the Raj Bhavan in Chennai.

“That is a sad part of it. But they (foreign funders) wanted Sterlite to be closed,” the governor said.

“Sterlite was providing 40% of India’s copper needs. Copper is very important for the electronic industry, and even now, the factory is closed. And all those people behind (the protests) were getting foreign contributions.”

On the 100th day of the protest on May 22 2018, the police, under the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government, allegedly shot 13 civilians dead, which led to the closure of the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper.

Governor Ravi also alleged that the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) were also foreign-funded. They come in the names of “human rights, climate, green, and environment” to protest whenever a new project is launched to create unrest in India indirectly as they are “not in a position to take on us” directly, he said.

“Money trails of many of the NGOs who organise protests go to foreign countries,” he added.

The governor’s remarks drew sharp criticism. “I condemn the Governor who is demeaning the protests,” said Thoothukudi MP and DMK leader Kanimozhi Karunanidhi.

A report of the (retired) Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission, which was formed in May 2018 to probe the police firing, was tabled in the assembly in October 2022 under the DMK government, contending that there has been an instance of lethargy and indifference from former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami since he didn’t act on information conveyed to him by the then intelligence officer K N Santhiyamurthy to diffuse the situation. The report concluded that there had been police excess, which was unprovoked.

Citing this report, one of the protesters, V Gunaseelan, told HT via phone from Thoothukudi that the governor was wrong.

“Despite Aruna Jagadeesan’s report, it is a big mistake for the governor to say this. Even Rajinikanth said (in 2018) that outside elements provoked the protests, and he apologised and backtracked when the Commission called him for enquiry,” said Gunaseelan. “All of us are very angry with the Governor. We will protest against him.”

During his interaction, Governor Ravi also spoke of his role and the Constitution which has given him three options regarding Bills passed by the assembly– giving assent, or withholding assent, reserving the bill for the President of India.

“When the Bill is withheld, it is as good as dead. We use the word withheld in decent language. But the bill is dead. A bill becomes a law only when the Governor gives his assent to it…The governor has a Constitutional responsibility to see whether the state exceeds its competence,” Ravi said.

This comes in the backdrop of the Governor returning the Bill to ban online gambling and the legislative assmebly passing it for the second time. To this chief minister M K Stalin reached in a strong worded 4-page statement.

Stalin cited a 1975 judgement by the Supreme Court which had observed that the Constitutional conclusion is that the governor is but a shorthand expression for the state government. “Let the Governor not forget this and consider him as a great dictator,” the CM said. “Moreover, it is a bad example to say it in public without any legal standing. The governor will stay truthful to the oath of office he took only if he withdraws his statement.”

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