NEWS

How The Leaderless Jallikattu Protests At Chennai's Marina Beach Came Undone

This was not the way the protesters thought their campaign will end.

24/01/2017 7:44 PM IST | Updated 24/01/2017 8:30 PM IST
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Indian police try to control a protest against the ban on the Jallikattu bull taming ritual at Marina Beach.

A little after 5 pm on Monday, more than twenty lawyers of the Madras High court trekked to the end of the beach where 2000-odd protesters, unwilling to vacate Marina beach, were standing. Everyone looked to them with hope that they, explaining the legal nuance of the ordinance which subsequently became an Act, would persuade them to call off their vigil. But eyewitnesses were flabbergasted when some of them said it is their right to protest peacefully. Sources suggested that some of the lawyers owed allegiance to opposition parties in Tamil Nadu who wanted the protest pot to keep boiling.

It was then left to Justice D Hariparanthaman, a retired judge of the Madras High court to try and get them to leave. But he too was on the side of the agitated youth saying it is the government's lack of transparency that led to this tense situation. According to the youth, the judge also left it to them to take the decision on when to leave.

It is quite apparent that the leaderless movement suffered from a lack of direction and that there was no one who held sway over the entire lot of protesters. Realising the vacuum that existed by the sea, just about anyone and everyone stepped in, some trying to be leaders and others trying to indulge in back seat driving.

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Indian police remove protesters during a demonstration against the ban on the Jallikattu bull taming ritual at Marina Beach in Chennai.

Sources within the movement say many of them were in favour of doing a ghar waapsi on Saturday, after Governor Vidyasagar Rao had signed the ordinance. They felt the basic purpose of the agitation had been served. But not everyone was on the same page.

It was at this stage that sources say a number of fringe elements became more vocal. They disagreed with the proposal of calling off the protest. They pointed out that the governments in Chennai and New Delhi could not be trusted to keep their word.

The Tamil Nadu government too did not play its cards well. Chief minister O Panneerselvam, rather uncharacteristically, was quite enthusiastic to grab all the credit for the ordinance and announced that he will inaugurate the Jallikattu event in Alanganallur, where the most grand bull-taming sport has traditionally taken place over the years, on Sunday.

That's where, sources say, others stepped in to checkmate Panneerselvam. Buttons were reportedly pushed to ensure the CM's move was resisted. Outsiders flocked to Alanganallur to ensure Jallikattu did not take place. Strangely, Jallikattu was organised in many other districts but not where Panneerselvam had gone. The intention was to make him feel small and humiliated. The CM took the flight back to Chennai.

Here is where Panneerselvam, despite being a seasoned politician, committed a mistake. The moment the ordinance was signed by Governor Rao, he should have held a press conference and disclosed all the salient points to the media so that everyone was convinced he had managed the impossible. Or he could have gone to Madurai and read out a Tamil translation of the ordinance draft in Jallikattu territory.

While one section was targeting Narendra Modi and also introducing an anti-upper caste angle into the protest, others were alleging that Prabhakaran and Osama bin Laden-kind of elements had got into the Marina protest.

Apparently one school of thought was not to give the animal rights activists an opportunity to knock the doors of the judiciary late on Saturday night if Panneerselvam announced the contents on Saturday. But by not revealing what the ordinance contained, he only increased the trust deficit between the protesters and the government, allowing mischief makers to get into the act.

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Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu O. Panneerselvam.

By the weekend, both leftist and right-wing groups had infiltrated the movement and started making their presence felt. While one section was targeting Narendra Modi and also introducing an anti-upper caste angle into the protest, others were alleging that Prabhakaran and Osama bin Laden-kind of elements had got into the Marina protest.

From the outside, a popular actor was mounting pressure saying this is like a "civil war'' and that the Marina should not be vacated till a permanent solution was found. It was evident that he wanted to fight his war against the ruling party by shooting off the shoulders of the already emotionally surcharged youth.

There was also resentment against the group of Jallikattu proponents and a pop singer who emerged on the scene to say the movement should be called off since some anti-social and anti-national elements had infiltrated it. This was seen as an attempt by the government to make the students appear unreasonable in their demands and adamant about continuing the protest.

This was not the way the protesters thought their campaign will end.

This was not the way the protesters thought their campaign will end. Being blamed for violence, which they did not even commit. Many of the prominent faces are now on the political and police radar. The politicians have realised that some of them have appeal among the youth and have been reaching out to them to spread their party's agenda. The police have warned some that their phones could be tapped. Given that most come from middle class backgrounds, this has been enough to scare them and their families.

A leaderless movement was seen as an asset in the initial days. Where an issue and not a face mattered. By the end, however, having too many people trying to act like leaders spoiled what could have been a celebratory finish.

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