As Congress leaders and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi reach Madurai on Jallikattu day, history is torn open and new controversies flood Tamil Nadu. The state is gearing for a tight-knit competition ahead of the assembly elections this year, Rahul Gandhi’s arrival is seen by political observers as a way to mend past mistakes and forge new alliances. He arrived at the airport and DMK Youth Wing Secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin, TNCC chief KS Alagiri, Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal, and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy joined him at the event in Avaniapuram in Madurai.
On Pongal today, the Tamil state celebrated it with their traditional bull-taming sport Jallikattu at the place, where Rahul is a visitor. The event also started a slew of debates seeing as how the Congress leader is at the state as part of a campaign tour. DMK and Congress are in an alliance and they are reportedly planning to face the elections together, while Alagiri reported that Rahul would lend his moral support to the protesting farmers against the three new farm laws. Alagiri added that the bull is a “symbol of farmers and part of their lives”.
Rahul and Congress, however, are facing harsh criticism from their opposition, mainly the BJP and AIADMK, who allege them of politicising Jallikattu for votes. The origin of the criticism stems from the fact that the UPA government — mainly the Ministry of Environment and Forests by Jairam Ramesh — had banned the sporting event in 2011 following the Tamil Nadu vs Supreme Court incidents happening throughout the country. This, however, is not a political decision as there were protests from animal rights groups, activists, and PETA declaring that Jallikattu was cruel to the animal as much as it was to the humans who participated in it.
The BJP exclaimed that they secured rights for the Jallikattu through ordinances and made the sport legal again. The DMK government under the leadership of Karunanidhi brought out the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act in 2009. While it was challenged in the Supreme Court, the UPA decision in 2011 had lengthened the debate in the apex court. When the youngsters and Jallikattu enthusiasts took the streets in statewide protests, the AIADMK had arranged for an amendment that exempted Jallikattu from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) in Tamil Nadu and not the nation. Senior political leader Salman Khurshid and other experts have opined that such an amendment won’t stand the test of time as the federal version of the law would trump a state amendment a local ordinance. Despite their second term in the Centre, and their “love for everything Tamil Nadu” the BJP is yet to amend the PCA.
While this issue has taken centre stage in the political circles in Tamil Nadu, the other aspect of the matter is the controversial farm laws. The ruling AIADMK, who supports the contentious farm bills at the Centre, have taken great care in organising the events to control possible protests. Yet, there were protests against the farm laws and in support of the farmers at the event that was not surprising to many. The BJP had avoided the event and had their welcoming party for National Chief JP Nadda at Chennai as their sources had indicated that their presence would have only exacerbated the situation.
During the event, Rahul Gandhi said, “Today, the government in Delhi is under the impression that they will destroy cultures of the country. They believe they can suppress the emotions, language, and spirit of the Tamil people.” He added that such suppression would be the worst that anyone can do to their country. Ahead of his arrival, Twitter was awake with #VannakkamRahulGandhi and #GoBackRahul hashtags.