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    Jallikattu puts Narendra Modi on the horns of a dilemma


    Jallikattu puts Narendra Modi on the horns of a dilemma

    T.S. Sudhir

    One can't help feeling a sense of deja vu. Travel to Jallikattu territory in southern Tamil Nadu and you can smell defiance in the air. Just like it was in January 2016, when the youth in districts of Madurai, Trichy, Theni said they will challenge the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu by conducting the bull-taming event informally. But barring few instances of a bull let loose on the streets, no one dared cross the line.

    The same war cry is on the playlist this time. That come what may, Jallikattu will be held to celebrate Pongal. And again like last year, practise sessions are being organised on open fields in different parts of Madurai and Trichy, with youth honing their skills to tame the bull let loose. The administration turns a blind eye to these mini-Jallikattu sessions where hundreds of youth converge. Jallikattu is a traditional sport where men, to demonstrate their machismo, try to control a bull on the rampage.

    The problem, however, is that barring a few more pro and anti-Jallikattu petitions on which the Supreme Court is yet to pronounce its verdict, nothing has changed since last Pongal. Tamil Nadu's political parties have once again upped the decibel level, with chief minister O Panneerselvam displaying grit, not usually associated with him. The CM has reaffirmed his government's resolve to conduct the sport, promising not to back off on the issue.

    Panneerselvam's Sehwag-esque transformation is because the DMK is fighting the battle on Madurai turf. Its leader, MK Stalin, was present at a protest meeting last week in Alanganallur village, which has historically hosted the biggest Jallikattu in the state. Panneerselvam's effort was to point out that it was the UPA regime, of which the DMK was a part, which issued a notification including bulls under the “performing animals” category. As a result, it could no longer be used in the sport.

    The Union ministry under Prakash Javadekar pushed a notification ahead of Pongal last year allowing Jallikattu, but found itself rapped on the knuckles by the court, which scrapped it. The notification had a political angle stitched to it as the Assembly elections were due four months later. But despite trumpeting its failed attempt to allow the sport, the BJP came a miserable cropper in the polls failing to open its account in the state Assembly.

    This time around, the Centre does not want to get on the wrong side of the court. On one hand, environment minister Anil Dave insists that bulls are not ill-treated in Jallikattu, on the other, he says the government will wait for the court verdict. Tamil Nadu hopes this is not the final word.

    What is being sold on the streets of Tamil Nadu is Tamilian pride. That the attempt to disallow a traditional sport is an insult to Tamilian . The Karnataka government's defiance of the apex court's order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu in September is cited as a precedent that ought to be followed on Jallikattu.

    Should youth try to defy the ban, that will create an issue for the district administration. Should they listen to their political bosses or implement the court order? Officials on the ground are wary that should they look the other way, the SC is more than likely to come down heavily on them. They fear they will be ones who will face the music for not ensuring the court diktat is followed in and spirit.

    The political parties aren't the only ones who are on the Jallikattu bandwagon. Tamil actors – from Kamal Haasan to Simbu to Vishal – have attempted to wear their machismo on their sleeve, batting for Jallikattu. Kamal at the Today South Conclave in Chennai this week said if you want to ban Jallikattu, then ban biryani as well.

    Others, like actor-turned-politican Khushbu Sundar and RJ and actor Balaji, too supported the lifting of the ban. But the fact also remains that it is almost impossible for anyone in Kollywood to take a contrary view because doing so would invite the risk of their movies being targeted by the pro-Jallikattu lobby.

    When the Centre got the resignation of the chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) on December 23, it was seen as the first step towards getting the voices of dissent silenced and moving in with an ordinance at the last minute. Supporters of Jallikattu are hoping that the Modi government would do so late on January 13 evening, to leave no time for a court review before Pongal, which falls the next day.

    The BJP clearly plans to ride on the bull in a post-Jayalalithaa Tamil Nadu. The state unit believes that if the Modi government makes it possible to conduct the event, it will earn the party enormous goodwill and provide it with an entry point in a state dominated by the two Dravidian parties.

    Animal rights activists are pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court. The court had banned the sport in May 2014, upholding the argument of the animal rights activists that the animal is subjected to the worst form of cruelty during the event. The AWBI produced documentary evidence which showed that chilly powder was thrown into the eyes and anus of the bull, its tailbone broken and half a dozen louts jumped on to it, in order to tame it, terrifying the animal.

    But if its dismissal of the Tamil Nadu government's plea for a review of its 2014 verdict in November is anything to go by, the court is unlikely to change its mind on Jallikattu. A significant section of Tamil Nadu would hopes Modi bites the bullet on the bull.

    The writer is a journalist.


    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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