On December 27, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar brought smiles to the faces of people in southern Tamil Nadu when he declared with confidence that the Union government will give “good news” on allowing jallikattu, the famous bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu conducted during Pongal festivities. But more than a week later, and just days ahead of Pongal celebrations, the possibility of jallikattu being held legally looks bleak.
The “good news” announcement was expected by January 1, but so far there has been no word on it, and political parties in Tamil Nadu are increasingly pressurizing the Centre to take action.
While Javdekar seemed confident of being able to bypass the landmark Supreme Court verdict which banned the seasonal sport, several other arms of the government and individuals have advised him to not allow jallikattu. The SC verdict was well-crafted and strong, and it will not be easy to bypass it. However, given that elections are to be held in Tamil Nadu in 2016, it is a sensitive political issue for the BJP and the state unit is pushing the Centre to go through with it.
So, what can the government do at this stage if they want to allow jallikattu?
The government will have to change the law, which will not be an easy job. The government will have to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), and the impact will not be limited to just jallikattu and could have a far-reaching impact on the animal rights in India.
The political capital now lies in somehow allowing it to happen this year, which is what political parties are likely to be focusing on. It was believed that this can be done by passing an ordinance amending the law. But this is not likely to go unchallenged, and the Supreme Court might take a very serious view of such an intervention, which is why even its own legal officers are not with the government.
The Attorney General’s office has reportedly given an opinion against any ordinance nullifying the SC order and lifting the ban, holding the view that such an executive order will not stand the test of law.
Further, the Animal welfare Board of India has written to the Ministry against removal of the ban, and is refusing to take a step back. “We believe that the event itself, in any form, leads to animal cruelty. We are not in favor allowing jallikattu to happen in any manner,” says Dr RM Kharb, Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India.
But, if people are willing to conduct the sport without cruelty to the bulls, then why not?
This has already been tried, and it has failed, says Dr Kharb. “The state government had issued guidelines and even enacted a new law to conduct the sport without any cruelty. But even after that cruel practices continue, and we have video-graphed all of this and shown it to the Supreme Court,” he says.
There are several other who have expressed their opposition to jallikattu. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a letter to the Humane Society of India on December 15, said “..we have to discourage bullfights which provide a cruel form of entertainment.”
The Tamil Nadu BJP is trying its best to get an ordinance passed. “We still have hope, we have had several meeting with ministers. But there are several legal problems with this and we have to keep that in mind,” says Tamilisai Soundararajan, President of the TN BJP.
In reality however, the situation is grim. “There are no signs of jallikattu happening. We did think initially that it will be conducted, but now we are being told that the chances are slim. The AG has pointed out some legal issues which make it difficult for the government to simply pass an ordinance,” says a top source in the TN BJP.
The blame game has already begun, with TN Congress chief EVKS Elangovan now asking for the resignation of Pon Radhakrishnan, the only BJP MP and Union Minister from Tamil Nadu, in case the government does not allow it.
Excuses are getting tailored. “We tried hard, and the BJP alone cannot be targeted if jallikattu does not happen,” says Tamilisai, “all political parties are equally responsible if this does not happen. If we were not serious about it, we would not have confidently said that we will try to get permission.”
Amidst all this, former SC judge Markandeya Katju has now said that the state government can also bypass the Centre and allow the sport to go on.
Pro-jallikattu activists are also not very hopeful. “They keep telling us that a favorable decision will be worked out, but we have not heard anything. All we have now is hope,” says P Rajasekhar, Jallikattu Pathukappu Peravai.
Not allowing the sport to go on legally, however, has its own problems, and the state government will be left dealing with them. Continuing the ban on jallikattu could lead to law and order problems in Tamil Nadu, and the politics of the state is unlikely to contain it.