“Political analysts say Jayalalithaa’s demand for an ordinance is a case of political grandstanding that is designed with an eye on votes from the Thevar community, a large Backward Class group, many of whose members are involved in the bull-taming sport in the state’s southern districts.” – Sandhya Ravishankar
When the Supreme Court banned the popular bull-taming sport of Jallikattu in May 2014, parties across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu hollered indignantly. The state government led by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, filed a review petition in the apex court to undo the verdict. That petition is still pending before the court. But Jayalalithaa now wants Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and promulgate an ordinance that allows the traditional sport, native to the southern districts of the state and held on the occasion of Pongal in January, to go on.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi dated December 22, Jayalalithaa wrote: “I strongly urge you to immediately direct the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to introduce a Bill to comprehensively and suitably amend the relevant provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and any other relevant laws to enable the conduct of Jallikattu.”
The Supreme Court order of 2014 had upheld a rule by the Environment Ministry that lists the bull as an animal which should not be exhibited or trained as a performing animal. That judgement had decision effectively banned Jallikattu, a sport where a bull is released from an enclosure and the one who holds on to it for a predetermined distance or time, wins a prize.
A little over three weeks before the next Pongal, the chief minister said in her letter, “May I request that the Parliament session be extended, or a special session called for this purpose? Alternatively, considering the urgency of the issue, the Government of India may consider promulgating an Ordinance enabling the conduct of Jallikattu during Pongal, 2016. On behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu, I urge you to have the Ordinance promulgated expeditiously.”
An ordinance overturning the Supreme Court verdict would require some legal jugglery on the part of the Centre. It’s unclear how it could sidestep the verdict and drop the bull from the list of performing animals. One option could be to modify the definition of a performing animal.
State leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party hinted at the ordinance becoming a reality in the near future. “As long as Parliament is in session, an ordinance cannot be brought in,” said H. Raja, national secretary of the BJP. “Now that the session is over, there is every possibility of the ordinance being brought in very soon.”
He claimed the government could bring in an ordinance in the next three-four days. “After six months it can be ratified by Parliament,” he said. “I am confident that Jallikattu can be performed in this Pongal festival.”
Union Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan claimed that steps would be taken to ensure Jallikattu is allowed this January. “During the recent Parliament session, we raised the issue with Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javdekar,” said Radhakrishnan. “The minister has assured that necessary steps would be taken in this regard. He held meetings with officials of the department and invited me to be part of it.”
Political analysts say Jayalalithaa’s demand for an ordinance is a case of political grandstanding that is designed with an eye on votes from the Thevar community, a large Backward Class group, many of whose members are involved in the bull-taming sport in the state’s southern districts.
“The Jallikattu issue is entirely vote-based,” said senior journalist G. C. Shekhar. “There is a huge rural population involved in this bull-taming. I don’t think this issue is one which warrants an ordinance. The review petition in the Supreme Court is the way forward.”
“Jayalalithaa is just trying to say something different from other parties,” he added. “She needs to concentrate more on getting money for flood relief from the Centre, rather than all this. It is just tokenism.”
Alliances ahead of polls
In an issue that is likely to see little opposition in the state, except from animal rights groups, Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Bharatiya Janata Party are both hoping to score brownie points with the electorate, a few months before heading into Assembly polls.
Senior journalist Vaasanthi, who has authored a book on Jayalalithaa, too believes that such statements from the chief minister are likely to be indicative of a future political alliance. “She wants to show that she will take it to the highest authority, that is Modi,” said Vaasanthi. “It is only a kind of posturing. Her popularity chart was pretty high before the floods and now it has slipped down. So maybe now she may even be open to going in for an alliance.”
The rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, outmanoeuvered by Jayalalithaa, is quick to point out that the ban came only because of the state government not adhering to strict rules laid down by the apex court in conducting Jallikattu in 2014.
“The problem came about because of the state government,” said T. K. S. Elangovan, spokesperson for the DMK. “A court-appointed team which came to inspect Jallikattu found that AIADMK officials were not supervising it properly and reported it to the Supreme Court. It is only because the state government failed to keep up the court’s instruction that this has happened.”
Elangovan added that the Central government may have stated time and again that they will bring an amendment but they had failed to do so.
If an ordinance is promulgated before January 14, animal rights groups will likely move court immediately and seek a stay on the sport. In the process though, both the AIADMK and the BJP will lay claim to at least have tried – a move they hope will give dividends in the 2016 Assembly polls. – Scroll.in, 25 December 2015
» Sandhya Ravishankar is an independent journalist based in Chennai.