Chennai: “Let my daughter be the last victim of the banner culture”, pleaded Subhasri’s father when DMK president Stalin visited the grieving family to condole her gruesome death after being hit by a loose banner and run over by a speeding truck from behind.
Stalin had already issued a diktat to party members not to erect banners and the ruling AIADMK too did likewise; yet, the culture of banners and flags on road medians is unlikely to disappear in Tamil Nadu — a state where the Dravidian politics has always had a close liaison with Kollywood and took inspiration from its MGR-Sivaji multi-colour banners of massive proportions to create its own giant flex banners for its ‘revolutionary’ and ‘litterateur’ leaders. In fact, most of these political leaders have been imported from the movie world and more are waiting in the queue.
“This terrible banner culture will not disappear in a hurry in our state, thanks to our political class that has its roots in cinema. You still see the horrible scenes of the fan clubs performing milk abhishekams to their hero’s giant cut-outs. And from there have descended the banners and cut-outs of the political thalaivars and thalaivees; you saw the cut-outs of Jayalalithaa that were 80 feet tall”, said noted lawyer Sudha Ramalingam, pointing out that AIADMK functionary Jayagopal, responsible for the banner that killed Subhasri, remains untouched.
“Do the police really not know where he is hiding?”
She said courts should institute some monitoring mechanism and jail a few officials under contempt when violations are spotted on the roads.
“The High Court has already pronounced against the banner culture and a few officials are hauled up for contempt of court when violations are seen, there could be drastic drop in the erection of banners”, said 'Arappor' Jayaraman, who has been waging war against these illegal banners for several years, much like the other 'warrior' ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy, who claims he is “just 86 years young” and has all the energy to battle the banner violators.
But then, campaigners like Jayaraman, Ramaswamy and Sudha could face uphill task clearing up the TN skyline of dangerous banners, despite the presence of a few honest officers keen on enforcing the ban.
Take for example, the case of Assistant Engineer Varadaraj of Chennai Corporation who needed hospital treatment after being assaulted - not to mention the vulgar abuse he was subjected to - by MDMK members because he got their party flags removed from the road at YMCA in Nandanam, which they had erected to celebrate late Anna's birth anniversary.
MDMK president Vaiko has justified that attack/abuse as spontaneous and emotional reaction to the flags being removed. And he also accused the police of arresting his functionary Subramani under false case of 'attempt to murder' in that engineer's attack. The police acted at the behest of “people at top”, meaning the AIADMK bosses, he said.
Activists urge public to be alert against illegal banners
‘Arappor' Jayaraman and two of his associates had to spend the 2016 New Year Day in jail after being arrested for agitating against illegal banners. "Those who erected the banners were not punished but we were thrown into jail for questioning the illegal banners. We came out on bail 10 days later. The FIR is still pending and no charge-sheet has been filed", recalled Jayaraman, sounding bitter.
"There is no point —and it's quite difficult — if only social activists take up this fight. People should shun the leaders and parties that practice this banner culture, which is nothing but hero-worshipping sans any political principles or philosophy. And the courts should jail a few officials who turn blind eye to these violations", he said.
He recalled that the late DMK leader M Karunanidhi had issued diktat against banners when the Arappor agitation happened in 2015-16, which Stalin has now repeated following Subhasri's death. Jayalalithaa too had passed an internal order - meant only for the AIADMK functionaries - to refrain from erecting banners during her last term in 2016.
"But again the banners popped up during the EPS-OPS battle and a honest Corporation engineer named Babu got transferred out when he removed some of those illegal banners on Greenways Road", recalled Jayaraman.
Both Sudha Ramalingam and Jayaraman pleaded that the public remain alert to ensure that the fear among politicos and officials following the death of Subhasri does not thin out, letting the banners reappear. How many more litres of blood do you want to pain the roads with?" asked the anguished Justices of the Madras High Court hearing the Subhasri case. They posed the question to the Chennai Police, to the administration; but, the public must take it as being addressed to them all....