Who is the provocateur nudging the bull factor in Tamil politics?

For Jallikattu, the bull let loose in the arena needs to be provoked. Who is the provocateur nudging the new bull factor in Tamil politics? Let’s see who all are gored and who hug victory ultimately

PTI Photo
PTI Photo
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Neelabh Mishra

With Jallikattu protests around Makar Sankranti or Mattu Pongal, as the festival is locally known, the politics of the bull entered the political arena in post-Jayalalithaa Tamil Nadu. This new bull factor now senses an opportunity to turn the smug bipolar Dravidian politics of the state into a china shop. Dravidian politics evolved over around four decades after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had held complete sway in the heydays of the Annadurai and M Karunanidhi years, between 1967 and 1976, which MG Ramchandran’s All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam turned irreversibly bipolar.


The traditional village sport of Jallikattu, or Hugging the Bull, had acquired the modern taste for violence and betting through a new form of bull fighting. For this, the bull let loose in the arena needs to be provoked, excited and nudged. Who is this provocateur exciting and nudging the new bull factor in Tamil politics?


When the Jallikattu protests and the siege of Marina were on, this columnist would tell his Tamil friends to wait for its full political ramifications to unravel. This was spoken with insights gained from the unravelling of Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement in Delhi, which revealed the various strands of political and corporate gainers over the next couple of years in North Indian politics, and ultimately through that route the governance and economic structure of the country. But like the initial Anna Hazare moment, middle class Chennai friends mostly saw a Tamil identity angst fuelling the so-called spontaneous protests for which the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu was only the gelling factor. The other prominent factors cited were: being at the receiving end of the Caurvery dispute, and Demonetisation that was seen as an arbitrary imposition by the centre.


But do look at the way the bull factor accompanying Jallikattu protests has unfolded over a short period of around a month. Around Mattu Pongal, Jallikattu protests began with huge crowds gathering at Marina, with a social media mobilisation originated by urban young IT professionals, even though Jallikattu as a sport has been largely practiced in the Thanjavur region by the dominant agricultural community of Maravar Thevars, to which Chief Minister O Paneerselvam belonged. A few days after Pongal, Hindutva websites and their social media buzz started a narrative saying that anti-National forces like the LTTE and jihadists had infiltrated the protests and were trying to malign Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Subramaniam Swamy, even though they were pro-Jallikattu and against the Supreme Court ban. The Hindutva social media buzz also soon started talking of the protestors being incited to boycott Republic Day. Increasingly, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began to be vilified by large sections of the protestors and social media, in keeping with the vilification of NGOs across the country by the New Delhi establishment, even though it was the government’s Animal Welfare Board of India which had taken the matter to the courts. Care was taken not to malign the Supreme Court in the mainstream media and social media domain.

When the Jallikattu protests and the siege of Marina were on, this columnist would tell his Tamil friends to wait for its full political ramifications to unravel. This was spoken with insights gained from the unravelling of Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement in Delhi, which revealed the various strands of political and corporate gainers over the next couple of years in North Indian politics, and ultimately through that route the governance and economic structure of the country.

The protests had continued even after the news of the Centre and Chief Minister Paneerselvam reaching an agreement over a draft Ordinance to be promulgated by the State Government. The protestors were demanding that a legislation be passed by the State Assembly legalising Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. A few days later, Paneerselvam pilots the Bill and has it passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly with the green signal given by the Central Government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even tweets in support of Jallikattu and public sentiment.


The fact that the Act was already passed by the State Assembly wasn’t conveyed immediately to the protestors. Instead, the State Police was unleashed on them, beating them up and even beating up the fishermen who tried to help the largely young urban professionals still gathered on the beach. Videos of police atrocity started circulating on social media with two opposing narratives. One initiated by the Chennai young urban professionals recording police atrocities, and the other initiated by the Hindutva social media army and some other unidentified sources showing it as a police crackdown on the anti-national section of the protesting crowd. The Tamil Eelam supporters were out of the narrative now and mere Jihadists remained. To this, Chief Minister Paneerselvam lent credence in the assembly saying that posters of Osama bin Laden and also posters calling for a boycott of the Republic Day had been waved in the crowd. So what had begun as largely a narrative of Tamil identity and sub-nationalism became subsumed by the narrative of Indian nationhood and its enemies as propagated by the current central establishment.

The fact that the Act was already passed by the State Assembly wasn’t conveyed immediately to the protestors. Instead, the State Police was unleashed on them... Chief Minister Paneerselvam lent credence in the assembly saying that posters of Osama bin Laden and also posters calling for a boycott of the Republic Day had been waved in the crowd. So what had begun as largely a narrative of Tamil identity and sub-nationalism became subsumed by the narrative of Indian nationhood and its enemies as propagated by the current central establishment.

What has unfolded in the past few days is pretty obvious. The Centre’s support for Paneerselvam in his battle against Sasikala and her nominee Edappadi Palanisamy in the wake of her conviction. The timing of the conviction coincidentally was very convenient to scuttle her bid for power in the AIADMK and the state. She has teamed up with Thambidurai, the leader of the AIADMK Parliamentary party and Palanisamy, the bidder for Chief Ministership with her backing. Both of these two leaders belong to the prosperous and hardworking Kongu Gounder community, largely inhabiting the industrial hub of western Tamil Nadu consisting of Coimbatore-Erode area. To be objective, this community has financed all major political groupings in the state including the AIADMK, the DMK and the Congress. They have wielded a financial clout in the state’s politics which has not reflected commensurately in their representation within the political and government leadership of the state. They have never had a relationship of political and economic rivalry with Thevars of Madurai region, the community to which Sasikala belongs. Rather, political relationship between the Thevars of Madurai and Paneerselvam’s community of Maravar Thevars of Thanjavur has always had an element of political rivalry and strain. Paneerselvam displays his religion proudly on his forehead, a perfect OBC entry point for saffron forces seen as Brahminical in the Dravidian political milieu. This is in tune with social engineering practiced by the RSS since the Ayodhya movement in many parts of the country— trying to exploit caste faultlines in backward classes and Dalit movements. On the other side, DMK too is lying in wait, ready to pounce at the first opportunity. The performance of the bull has just begun in the politics of Tamil Nadu. Let’s see who all are gored and who hug victory ultimately.

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