In turning Marina Beach, Tamil Nadu’s most popular recreation spot, into a historic rendezvous for Tamil assertion, the state’s youth have challenged the political class and triumphed. Though the elite class had smirked, ridiculed and belittled the entire protest — mainstream media initially did not bother to give it due coverage— thousands of people thronged the streets all over the state in an open display of a new-found political power. This impelled the AIADMK-led state government to seek an ordinance that will bring back what they wanted: Jallikattu.
But the view of the elite class, as exemplified by a leading media personality’s tweet that the state was “progressive” and it did not need Jallikattu, has been the typical dichotomy that has marked, perhaps marred, the discourse on Jallikattu. The maiden call for a ban of the sport was heard over a decade ago. Since then, the debates in media and elsewhere have been lopsided.
The protests, and the BJP-led Centre’s reluctance to help in lifting the ban, have considerably demolished the saffron party’s aspiration of getting a toehold in the state’s politics. The farcical support to Tamils by BJP leaders like Tarun Vijay and H Raja have already been dismissed by the people and in places like Madurai and Salem the protestors’ ire was immediately turned towards the railways, the visible central government establishment.
Interestingly, even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said “yes” when chief minister O Panneerselvam had met him on Thursday with a request for an ordinance, the political fruits would have been mostly reaped only by the AIADMK. Perhaps Modi was aware of that and he thought that by playing ball with the AIADMK, and by default with the burgeoning band of protestors, he could achieve nothing much politically, other than just enabling his Tamil Nadu state leaders to project themselves as the saviours of Tamil culture.
But if the Centre had refused to do anything about Jallikattu to put the state government in a quandary, then the AIADMK has just managed to save its face through the proposed ordinance. It cannot, however, expect much political gain out of it.
This is because the “Tamil Spring” — as some are calling the Jallikattu protests —has no political backing or leaning, though the underpinning of the mobilisation is indeed political.
The growing resentment among the youth over the present political system and the repeated failure of politicians in addressing issues that are quintessentially “Tamizh” has led to the collective anger now being displayed. People see themselves having no voice at the national or state level with elected representatives playing second fiddle and coming across as subservient to their party leaders.
After watching helplessly the interests of Tamil Nadu being ignored on a plethora of issues like Cauvery, Mullaiperiyar, river basin fracking, the Koodankulam nuclear power project, to name a few, the youth have found in Jallikattu a common cause for the uprising. This looks like a beginning for the disillusioned younger generation to try and wrest for themselves bargaining powers from the establishment. Jallikattu came as a unifier that helped cut through urban-rural and many such divides and shout out: Enough is enough.
The protest, reminiscent of the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation that rocked Tamil Nadu, has also send across a message to the politicians, media, ruling class and elite to not take the sentiments of the “other” subaltern communities for granted.
Coincidently, the Marina Beach also hosted the Tamil protestors in 1965.
G Babu Jayakumar is a Chennai-based senior journalist
The views expressed are personal