UPDATED: January 14, 2021 12:32 IST
Thus 10 years after the Congress-led UPA government virtually placed a ban on Jallikattu and five years after supporting ban on the bull-taming sport, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday is attending a Jallikattu event in Madurai as part of his opposition to the new central farm laws. Jallikattu is traditionally considered a sport of the farmers, which is played on the third day of Pongal celebrations.
In a Twitter post written in Tamil, Rahul Gandhi said, “I am coming to Tamil Nadu today to celebrate Pongal with you. I will attend the Jallikattu festival in Madurai.”
UPA’s ban on Jallikattu
In 2011, when the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre, the environment ministry under Jairam Ramesh had issued a notification banning the use of bulls as a performing animal.
This meant that the bulls could not be used in sporting events such as Jallikattu. However, Jallikattu continued under the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act No 27 of 2009 brought out by the then M Karunanidhi government.
The Tamil Nadu law had been brought out in response to a Madras High Court ruling of 2006 banning Jallikattu while hearing a petition on rekla (bullock cart) race. It provided for a window of five months between January and May for holding Jallikattu.
In 2010, the Supreme Court approved the conditional permission for holding Jallikattu under the 2009 law of Tamil Nadu. Ban on the use of bulls in sporting events such as Jallikattu was imposed by the Congress-led UPA government the next year.
Modi govt allows Jallikattu
Things moved again in 2014 during the Lok Sabha election. The Supreme Court in May 2014 struck down the Tamil Nadu law of 2009 banning Jallikattu altogether.
Just before the Tamil Nadu Assembly election five years ago, the Narendra Modi government in January 2016 amended the 2011 notification of the environment ministry allowing both Jallikattu and the bullock cart race with certain conditions.
The Congress, however, remained firm on its stand on Jallikattu. Its election manifesto for Tamil Nadu polls in 2016 said, “The party supports the ban on Jallikattu.”
Congress changes stand
Later, when the Supreme Court stayed the Modi government’s amendment to the notification in July 2016, and a massive protest erupted in support of Jallikattu in 2017 that the Congress changed its stand to say it supported the tradition sport.
However, different Congress leaders took different positions. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The Congress respects rights of people of Tamil Nadu to preserve the culture and protect rich tradition of Jallikattu.”
At the same time, another Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who had challenged the 2016 notification to allow Jallikattu in the Supreme Court as the counsel of the Animal Welfare Board and animal rights activists, sounded a dissenting note.
Singhvi stepped aside from the case saying despite his support to the animal rights, he respected “the sentiments of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Congress”. Some other Congress leaders said they promised to “legalise Jallikattu” in the 2016 Tamil Nadu election.
Tamil Nadu Assembly election
Late J Jayalalithaa returned to power in 2016 Tamil Nadu assembly polls and her AIADMK government brought an ordinance permitting Jallikattu in the state.
Now, when another Tamil Nadu election is on the horizon, Rahul Gandhi has buried the ambiguity that might have been in the Congress party. The upcoming Tamil Nadu election is first in several decades that will not witness a clash of titans — with the passing away of both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
The state politics is in a flux and Rahul Gandhi is clearly attempting to send a signal to his party workers and the voters of Tamil Nadu that the Congress is way past its anti-Jallikattu stand and non-hesitant in supporting cultural practices of Tamil people.