India Today - - UP FRONT - By S. Srini­vasan The au­thor is an ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor of news chan­nel Puthiya Tha­laimu­rai

It was a hu­man tsunami on Ma­rina Beach in Chen­nai, the likes of which have not been seen in Tamil Nadu in re­cent times. What started as a stu­dent protest had, by evening, swelled to hun­dreds of thou­sands of slo­gan-shout­ing, if peace­ful, young­sters de­mand­ing that the gov­ern­ment lift the ban on Jallikattu. It soon spread, and an es­ti­mated 15 mil­lion—one in ev­ery five res­i­dents of Tamil Nadu—were on the streets protest­ing.

The feud, which has been rag­ing for over a decade, is now a bone of con­tention be­tween an­i­mal lovers and farm­ers. Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals (PETA) ac­tivists say the bulls are sub­jected to cru­elty, force-fed with liquor and have chilli pow­der thrown into their eyes. Those who rear the bulls say they are looked after as well as their own chil­dren and if they are harmed dur­ing the sport, the event is called off. Tamils have long held that the sport has cul­tural and re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance.

After sev­eral court bat­tles be­tween an­i­mal lovers and jallikattu or­gan­is­ers, the Supreme Court banned it in 2014, say­ing the pre­ven­tion of cru­elty to an­i­mals was the fi­nal straw.

Po­lit­i­cally, the loud­est mes­sage came from Pan­neer­sel­vam. A man seen to be keep­ing the seat warm for Jay­alalithaa has fi­nally sig­nalled his ar­rival. It is not good news for the newly anointed AIADMK gen­eral sec­re­tary, V.K. Sasikala.

Pol­i­tics in Tamil Nadu is clearly chang­ing. Peo­ple have been un­happy with state govern­ments for their fail­ure to stop land and min­ing mafias from plun­der­ing riverbeds and agri­cul­tural fields. Though Tamil Nadu is one of the most ur­banised states, it has a strong ru­ral con­nect.

For the past few decades, the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Tamil Nadu has been op­pres­sive, leav­ing lit­tle space for dis­sent. It is, there­fore, un­sur­pris­ing that, with a weak gov­ern­ment at the helm, the students on Ma­rina and else­where voiced their new-found free­dom. over­rides the pro­tec­tion of cul­ture and tra­di­tion. On Jan­uary 8 last year, the Cen­tre is­sued a no­ti­fi­ca­tion lift­ing the ban in Tamil Nadu with cer­tain re­stric­tions, which was chal­lenged in the apex court. The court re­served its judg­ment. Stunned by the protests, the state gov­ern­ment, aided by PM Naren­dra Modi, en­acted a state law lift­ing the ban.

The ag­i­ta­tion may have ebbed, but the fire is un­likely to die soon. There are many rea­sons why Tamil sub­na­tion­al­ism has come to the fore. The death of J. Jay­alalithaa, and the in­dif­fer­ent health of her arch-ri­val, the ag­ing for­mer chief min­is­ter M. Karunanidhi of the DMK, have left a void in Tamil Nadu pol­i­tics. The per­cep­tion that chief min­is­ter O. Pan­neer­sel­vam is not quite his own man strength­ened the be­lief that the Cen­tre could ride roughshod over the state. The Cen­tre’s in­abil­ity to force Kar­nataka to re­lease Cau­very wa­ters to Tamil Nadu, de­spite a Supreme Court or­der, only added to the grist. Jallikattu

The surge in Tamil na­tion­al­ism is owed partly to the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal vac­uum

AN­GRY PROTESTS (Clock­wise from left) A car set on fire by protesters, Tamil Nadu CM O. Pan­neer­sel­vam, students protest­ing the ban at Ma­rina Beach JAISON G.

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