Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman , speaks to Nistula Hebbar on the protests for Jallikattu that have gripped Tamil Nadu, defends Prime Minister Modi’s attempts to diffuse the situation….
Tamil Nadu has been in the grip of protests against the ban on Jallikattu and the BJP as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi have also been targeted on the issue. What is your view?
That it has turned anti-BJP or anti- (Prime Minister) Modi is very unfortunate. In this whole matter, understanding the role that Jallikattu plays in Tamil Nadu and its social life, if anything, it is the BJP that has constantly been in favour of lifting the ban on the bull as a performing animal. Last year in January, with a notification from the Union government’s side, the Centre wanted to help the situation, but unfortunately, in January again, the Supreme Court, struck down that notification. I do not want to get into a blame game or pointing fingers, but the facts need to be stated here.
The first major step to banning Jallikattu was in 2011 when the then UPA government at the Centre included the bull in the list of performing animals, as a result of which, Jallikattu could not take place. Therefore the anger has to be expressed against the Congress which did not understand what role Jallikattu has in the social life of Tamil Nadu. Also the party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which was in power alongside the Congress in those years, ironically today, finds merit in the agitation over Jallikattu and does a rail roko. It’s ok for parties to now support the agitation now, but whoever put the spoke in the wheels in the first place has to be identified correctly. Let them be accountable, let them say “sorry, we didn’t read the mood of the Tamil people right”, let them come and explain that. Instead of making them answer, it is hurting and disappointing to see the Prime Minister being accused, someone who actually has tried to diffuse the situation last January, as he did this year to too. We couldn’t have done it directly as the matter is sub-judice, and last year’s notification had been struck down by the SC.
Could the state government have done anything different to allay the fears of the people?
I do not wish to personalise it, but in January of 2016, I was in Tamil Nadu attending the Cambodia-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam conclave that we held at Mahabalipuram, from there I had said very clearly that if anything the state government has the power to take out an ordinance to ensure that Jallikattu can go on. Last year itself, therefore, we were clear that the state government could very well do this, and if it did, we (Central government) would support the move. One year has passed, of course the matter is still being heard at the Supreme Court, but the state government, using its own powers, could have used the last year to do something about it.
Why do you think it didn’t happen. Some say that a power vaccum, because of the illness of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa had allowed the situation to linger.
Maybe so. I have a feeling that many of the issues that are at the heart of the protests are issues which a continuous dialogue should have been maintained. Last year as I understand, because of the health condition of the late CM. and subsequently the election, a lot of time was spent on doing many other things that suited the exigency, preparing for polls etc. As a result, I feel, a critical one year, when issues such as this, could have been broached were not discussed and ironically, a reverse process of stalling Jallikattu was on in the SC. The defenders of the ban, ironically, include several prominent Congress leaders, including the spokesperson of the Congress party, Abhishek Manu Singhvi. When you have that kind of a position, look at the way the political narrative turns 360 degrees, to hit at the BJP. Will the Congress explain whether they stand by their lawyer-spokesperson, who is defending the animal rights point of view. In fact, support for the ban on Jallikattu was a part of their (Congress’) 2016 manifesto.
What are your own views on Jallikattu?
I do not see it (Jallikattu) as a negation of modernity. Yes, traditionally, we have had Jallikattu. There are, however, also some other things attached to this traditional sport, like animal husbandry, livestock breeding, blending it with livelihoods of people who rear these animals and a practice where no one is burdened in maintaining the bull. It also had other cultural elements liked with agrarian life attached to it like the concept of taming and domesticating animals, and so on. The animal rights arguments looks at the tradition, not only shorn off any of these elements attached to the sport, but assumes that kindness to the animal is totally absent from the situation. That is going too far.