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Cops arrest 4 in Coimbatore for ‘assaulting Bengali migrants’, say 2 affiliated with Hindu Munnani

Arrests come at a time when alleged attacks on migrant workers are a heated political issue in Tamil Nadu. Hindutva group Hindu Munnani has denied any connection with the 4 accused.

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Chennai: Four people in Coimbatore have been arrested on charges of assaulting migrant workers from West Bengal, the police said Monday — a development that adds to an already-heated political debate on the alleged attacks on “guest workers” in the state. 

Speaking to the media Monday, Coimbatore Police Commissioner V. Balakrishnan said that Surya Prakash, Prakash, Pragadeesh and Velmurugan had been arrested over allegations of having assaulted four migrant workers from Bengal. The four have been booked under sections 294 (b) (singing, reciting, uttering any obscene words in public) and 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

The arrests came after a video, purportedly of an attack that took place on Coimbatore’s Variety Hall Road, went viral. In a complaint filed by the migrant workers at the Variety Hall Road Police Station on 12 March, they were walking on the road when they were attacked by four men on motorcycles. The alleged assailants, the complaint said, had accused them of blocking their way.

ThePrint has a copy of the complaint.

“We have taken into custody all four men who attacked the migrants and have also seized the two bikes used. Further investigation is underway,” Balakrishnan said at the press conference, adding that the four men were inebriated at the time of the assault. 

The police have also claimed that two of the four suspects have links with a Hindu group called the ‘Hindu Munnani’. 

However, in a statement released to the press Monday, the Hindu Munnani has said that the arrested people “had no connection” with the group.

The development comes at a time when the alleged attacks on migrant workers in the state have spurred a political blame game between the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The DMK has blamed the BJP for circulating fake videos and “spreading panic” in an attempt to unseat the ruling government.

“We all know that BJP leaders and spokespersons were peddling fake news,” DMK spokesperson Saravanan Annadurai told ThePrint.

The BJP, meanwhile has denied the allegations, instead blaming it on years of “divisive” politics and rhetoric against north Indians.

Vanathi Srinivasan, a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly from the Coimbatore (South) constituency — where the assault and subsequent arrest took place — told ThePrint: “The FIR doesn’t say that the attack was on the basis of language or because the victims were migrant workers”.

However, she added that she would issue a complete statement only after meeting the victims later Tuesday. 

Also Read: North-South divide is feeding migrant fears. But no one asks why Bihar has no factories

Affiliation with Hindutva group

According to Commissioner Balakrishnan, at least two suspects, Prakash and Prakash Surya, have been affiliated with the Hindu Munnani. 

“Prakash has confessed in the preliminary investigation of being affiliated with Hindu Munnani, (and) a few documents supporting his claim have been found on his mobile phone,” Balakrishnan said at the press conference. “(Prakash) Surya is also said to have been affiliated with the group earlier. All are under investigation.”

Founded by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member Ramagopalan, the Hindu Munnani is a unit affiliated with the Sangh Parivar and functions primarily in Tamil Nadu. The group has denied any connections with the four accused.

After the incident, Balakrishnan led a police team that met migrant workers in the state and assured them of their safety. 

‘Divisive politics’

The DMK and the BJP have been accusing each other of playing divisive politics. 

On 2 March, the issue of one such alleged attack was raised in the Bihar Assembly, with BJP leaders accusing Bihar’s deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav of celebrating Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin’s birthday at a time when Bihari workers were being beaten up in the southern state. 

The BJP was referring to Stalin’s 70th birthday celebrations which had several leaders, including Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, Yadav, former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav in attendance.  

In response, Tejashwi Yadav and several other leaders of Bihar’s mahagathbandhan — an alliance that comprises Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress, and the Janata Dal (United) — accused the BJP of “conspiring” against a united opposition against the party. 

On the same day, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar took to Twitter to demand official action on the issue. A day later, the Bihar government also decided to send a four-member team to probe the allegations. 

As the situation escalated, Tamil Nadu’s government and state police issued separate statements on the issue. In one statement on 3 March, Director General of Police (DGP) C. Sylendra Babu called the videos “fake” and promised action against those spreading them. 

Stalin, too, issued a statement, assuring migrant workers of their safety and promising action against those spreading such “panic”. 

Some of the statements by Tamil Nadu were even issued in Hindi.

Meanwhile, as the political slugfest between the DMK and the BJP escalated, police booked the editor of Dainik Bhaskar and Uttar Pradesh’s BJP spokesperson Prashant Umrao for spreading misinformation. 

Speaking to ThePrint, BJP’s Srinivasan pointed to DMK’s anti-Hindi statements made in the past. The DMK, she claimed, has set a narrative that “if north Indian people come to Tamil Nadu, they would start voting for BJP and this would lead to BJP capturing power in the state”. 

Calling the migrant labourers’ issue “disturbing”, she said that some DMK senior leaders, in speaking against north Indians, have “given an impression that north Indian labourers are taking away the opportunities of Tamil people”.

DMK, meanwhile, said that it was prompt state action that prevented the issue from escalating into a crisis. Pointing to the FIR against Umrao, DMK spokesperson Saravanan Annadurai said: “This is exactly in their playbook to peddle fake news to try to reap political dividend by spreading hate. Unfortunately, this template is not working in Tamil Nadu”.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Poaching war deepens rift between BJP & AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, but parties say ‘committed to alliance’


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