Over a month after the unbridled violence during an anti-Sterlite protest here that claimed 13 lives, some locals involved in the incidents have claimed they were “brainwashed” by a Left outfit to picket the district collectorate.

Hundreds of protesters had gone on the rampage on May 22, storming the collectorate, setting buildings and vehicles ablaze, and prompting police action that triggered outrage and forced the Tamil Nadu government to close the copper smelter unit.

The outfit–Makkal Adhikaram– has, however, rejected the allegation.

On May 22, after the district collectorate was picketed to seek closure of the copper plant of Sterlite, a unit of the Vedanata group, over pollution concerns, large- scale violence had followed. In the consequent police firing, 13 people were killed on May 22 and 23.

Blaming Makkal Adhikaram (People’s Power) for the picketing of the district collectorate, Madathur villagers in Tuticorin district accused the outfit and its allied organisations of “changing their hearts”.

In a petition to the District Legal Services Authority on July 2, the villagers sought legal help apprehending that several residents may be arrested in connection with the violence.

The villagers said in their petition they had assured the district authorities at a peace meeting on May 20 that they would hold a peaceful demonstration at SAV grounds on May 22 to “draw the attention of the government” to the alleged pollution caused by the unit.

However, two advocates and their associates “who belong to Makkal Adikaram changed our hearts” in favour of besieging the district collectorate, they claimed.

The two lawyers are now claiming they had nothing to do with the protest, the villagers said, adding it has caused “fear” among them.

“We request (the authorities) to avoid linking us with Makkal Adhikaram,” they said in their petition, and sought legal support to avert “police trouble” and lead a peacful life.

When asked why the petition was filed long after the violent incidents, D Pon Pandi, the main signatory to the petition and a Madathur resident told PTI, “I have about 40 cases registered against me. We, the Madathur villagers, have got nothing to do with the violence. That is why we have sought legal help.”

He said people were apprehensive of arrest soon after the conclusion of a local temple festival.

Like the villagers of Madathur, several fishermen of Threspuram, a coastal neighbourhood, have accused the oufit of fomenting trouble, in their petition to the DLSA.

They too accused two advocates of Makkal Adhikaram of “intruding” into the village and announcing protests like the one against the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on April 23.

“They brainwashed the youths. It is an undeniable fact that they engaged in propaganda seeking participation in the May 22 ‘siege the district collectorate’ protest.”

They said there are ample audio, video evidence of the Makkal Adhikaram advocates “whipping up passions” in support of the stir for the closure of the Sterlite unit.

They claimed they too had assured the authorities that their protest will be peaceful.

After the violence during which public and private property worth several crores of rupees were damaged, the Tuticorin police registered over 200 cases and arrested more than 100 people many of whom later got bail.

Advocate Vanchinathan, accused of leading the protest that turned violent, was arrested last month. A case was also registered against another advocate Hari Raghavan.

Makkal Adhikaram coordinator C Raju, however, claimed the villagers had submitted the petitions under “police intimidation”. He said the content of the pleas was “slanderous”.

Asserting that people from all walks of life protested against the plant, he asked “From where the claim of brainwash has come?”

Raju asserted that none of the outfit’s workers was involved in the violence.

Alleging that police was on a “witch-hunt” for its cadres, he said six of them have already been arrested under the National Security Act. He denied that the two advocates named in the petitions belonged to his outfit.

“Why the advocates and the outfit have been named now, more than 40 days after the violence,” asked advocate, Subbu Muthuramalingam, who appeared for Vanchinathan in a court here a few days ago, insisting “there are some suspicions”.

Left activist R Jawahar said, “It is wrong to say that the protest on May 22 was organised by a single outift.”

Jawahar, who has authored books on the Left movement, said he suspected that those who submitted the petitions may have been asked to do so by “vested interests”.

On the claims and counter claims, a top Tuticorin district police official said each and every relevant aspect was being investigated. “Probe is on. The focus is only on those who indulged in violence. Law will take its own course,” he said.