At a time when the Aam Aadmi Party’s national leadership is caught in a bitter internal battle, long way away in Tamil Nadu, its state unit has, for the past few days, put the ruling AIADMK on the backfoot.
It were AAP men who had barged into the residence of Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on March 21, seeking to be heard over the suicide of senior agricultural officer Muthukumaraswamy.
The administration had been left red-faced and after the matter refused to die down, police had eventually arrested former minister S S Krishnamoorthy, who was accused of driving the officer to suicide.
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AAP men, imprisoned following the episode, have since received expressions of support from both the Prashant Bhushan-Yogendra Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal camps.
The AAP leaders here say they are far removed from the Delhi party row.
“We have enough work here in Tamil Nadu. Although the developments are very sad, maybe these are problems of a political party at a crucial stage of evolution,” says Jayaram Venkatesh.
He is among the most prominent faces of the AAP protest over Muthukumaraswamy, which has emulated its Delhi unit in coming up with eye-catching methods such as wearing masks of the dead engineer.
Venkatesh (33) studied electrical engineering in the US and worked in Los Angeles for five years before returning in 2007 to work with government schools in Chennai. He joined AAP in January 2014. Venkatesh was held in custody for nine days over the forced entry into Panneerselvam’s residence.
Forty-nine other AAP leaders were also arrested with him, including L Manikandan, a 36-year old auto driver, and 23-year-old Imran, who worked as a salesman at a city retail shop.
While Imran has since lost his job, Manikandan claims the owner of his auto is reluctant to give one to him to drive now.
A group of 50 AAP leaders had made their way into Panneerselvam’s residence on Greenways Road on March 21.
Unlike the highly fortified Poes Garden house of J Jayalalithaa, there were hardly two-three policemen at the CM’s gate, allowing them easy access.
Chennai Commissioner of Police S George, known as a close aide of Jayalalithaa, was blamed for the poor security arrangements.
“Our aim was to meet the CM and give him a petition. For eight hours, we were kept at a marriage hall, until we were remanded in judicial custody at around 2.30 am,” says Venkatesh.
The AAP unit, meanwhile, is hoping for a clear direction from Delhi after the April 14 meeting of the two groups in the party. Senior state AAP leader Christina Samy was among those who resigned over the “treatment” of Bhushan and Yadav by the Kejriwal group.
A party leader pointed out that the formation of the state committees was supposed to happen immediately after the Delhi election, but has got delayed due to the infighting. “We hope the national leadership will not test the patience of volunteers,” he said.