Tamils gather in a big rally over water rights in Chennai on April 10. They called for IPL games in the city be cancelled. The state of Tamil Nadu has seen mounting protests over a disputed accord with neighbouring Karnataka state on how to share water from the Cauvery river. Photo: AFP/ Arun Sankar

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, on Thursday amid major protests over the failure of his government to set up the Cauvery Management Board to mediate a water dispute with neighboring state Karnataka.

A large number of protesters including those from opposition parties and Tamil groups were armed with black flags carrying the message ‘Go Back Modi’. It soon became a worldwide trend on social media, making the visit a big political embarrassment for Modi.

Modi was in the city, formerly known as Madras, to inaugurate the prestigious DefExpo, an annual military exhibition attended about 680 Indian and foreign firms. He began his speech with a history faux pas, by referring to Kanchipuram as the ‘land of the Cholas’ when it actually belonged to the Pallava dynasty.

About 10,000 police were deployed to prevent any untoward incident. Some protesters even wore black shirts and climbed up on huge advertising hoardings to shout slogans before the police ordered them down.

Due to the mass protest, the prime minister had to fly to the venue. According to Chennai residents, the East Coast Road was shut off to block the protesters from going to Mahabalipuram, where the defense exhibition was held. To get to a further event at Adyar Cancer Institute, where Modi inaugurated four facilities, a wall had to be demolished so the PM’s helicopter could land near the Cancer Institute to allow Modi to be driven to the venue.

Some protesters floated black balloons marked with the words ‘Go Back Modi’ to ensure the PM could see them from his chopper. Police tried to burst the balloons but some slipped away and soared into the sky.

In the morning, opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and some fringe groups took to the streets to protest over the national government’s failure to form a Cauvery Management Board as directed by the Supreme Court. DMK president MK Stalin had called on party workers to hoist black flags at their offices and homes.

India’s Supreme Court had asked the government to set up a neutral body to oversee the sharing of water from the Cauvery River between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states.

But with the deadline having expired, political parties across Tamil Nadu accused Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to secure votes in Karnataka ahead of an election there next month.

Tamil Nadu has witnessed continuous protests over the Cauvery River issue and these have even forced some Indian Premier League matches to be shifted from Chennai.

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