It’s silly season again as Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu draw closer and the bull is the centre of attention in the southern state. The traditional Tamil sport of Jallikattu (bull-taming), usually held around mid-January following the harvest festival of Pongal, is now under a cloud.
Banned by the Supreme Court in 2014, Jallikattu made a brief comeback last week when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification citing culture and tradition to allow the sport, despite the bull being on the list of animals which are prohibited from being used as performing animals. The Animal Welfare Board of India, the original petitioners in the Supreme Court, challenged the Centre’s notification in the apex court on 11 January . A day later, the Supreme Court ordered an interim stay on the sport, issuing notices to the Centre and various state governments for their responses.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has written to Prime Minister Modi demanding an ordinance to allow Jallikattu to be held. "With the Pongal festivities commencing from 14.1.2016, the public in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu have made all arrangements and preparations and are eagerly looking forward to the conduct of Jallikattu as part of the traditional festivities ingrained in the hoary cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu,” she wrote. “It is very important that the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu, who have a deep attachment to the conduct of the traditional event of Jallikattu, are respected. Hence, considering the urgency of the issue, I strongly reiterate my earlier request to the Government of India to promulgate an Ordinance forthwith to enable the conduct of Jallikattu. On behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu I urge you to take immediate action in this regard,” her letter stated.
DMK chief Karunanidhi too has echoed arch rival Jayalalithaa's demand to the Centre for promulgating an ordinance. "The contents of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's letter to you are a reflection of all the political parties in Tamil Nadu," he said in a statement. "Hence the Centre, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, must step in to bring in an Ordinance to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and ensure that Jallikattu takes place in Tamil Nadu this year," he stated.
It is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is facing most of the flak in this issue. After crowing about the Centre’s commitment and sensitivity to the people of Tamil Nadu in issuing the Jallikattu notification, the party in the state is now forced to eat crow. "We did it because Tamil Nadu people wanted it," state BJP President Tamilisai Soundararajan told Firstpost. "The Centre genuinely thought it must respect the sentiments of Tamils, so they did it. Now this block has come from the Supreme Court. It is a legal point and has to be tackled. We thought it will be valid because there is no cruelty to the bull in the sport. Centre cannot be blamed because we did it with good intention," she defended.
Not having a role in the issue and yet not willing to be left out of the ring, opposition parties in the state too have jumped into the melee, pointing fingers at the state government and advising the Centre to go the legal way.
The Congress party has seized upon the chance to make the BJP appear ill-prepared, reiterating the demand for an Ordinance. "It is not possible for the BJP not to have anticipated that this would happen," said state Congress President EVKS Elangovan in a statement about the stay imposed by the court. "What did the BJP government do for the past 18 months to ensure Jallikattu goes on? What efforts has the state BJP unit taken on this so far? At the last moment, the BJP is playing a double game by simply issuing an Executive order and allowing it to be stayed by the courts," he stated.
Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly and President of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) Vijaykanth slammed the Chief Minister for only writing letters to the Centre on the issue. “The court’s stay on Jallikattu is deeply saddening,” said Vijaykanth in a statement. “Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has written about this issue to the Prime Minister on the last day of Parliament and when he was out of the country. She has made it a habit to fool the people of Tamil Nadu in this manner in each issue. Jallikattu is not just part of the culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu – it has turned into an emotion of the people of this state. I request the Centre and state governments to discuss together and come up with a solution on how to legally tackle this issue and ensure that the stay on Jallikattu is lifted at the earliest,” he stated.
Fierce campaigner for Jallikattu, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) chief Vaiko slammed the Centre and the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for not doing enough. “48 MPs of the AIADMK have done nothing,” fumed Vaiko. “The Centre too approached it halfheartedly. Instead of amending the Act or promulgating an Ordinance, the Centre has betrayed Tamils,” he said.
Animal rights campaigners feel vindicated by the stay imposed by the court. “I am thrilled,” said Radha Rajan, one of the petitioners in the case. “There are two angles – primarily as an animal welfare issue. A beautifully argued judgement being overturned has caused a lot of concern and sorrow because it is very difficult to get animal rights recognised. The second angle is that the overturning of this 2014 judgement erodes the institution of the judiciary and the supremacy of the Supreme Court. It put the Executive on a collision course with the judiciary, which is not a good thing for democracy,” she said.
Meanwhile politics over the bull has been whipped up in the southern districts of the state. Two youngsters attempted self immolation in Alanganallur, the village where the Jallikattu is traditionally held annually. With every party lobbing the ball in the Centre’s court, the BJP finds itself between a rock and a hard place of its own creation.