Tamil Nadu

Modi may watch Jallikattu with Putin, Tamil Nadu remains on BJP radar

“My husband told me last month about the possibility of Russian President Vladmir Putin coming to Alanganallur along with Modi ji to watch Jallikattu,” reveals Shalini Sunderarajan. Her husband J Sunderarajan is the Thalaivar (leader) of the Jallikattu organising committee in Alanganallur, 16 km from Madurai city in southern Tamil Nadu. The Alanganallur Jallikattu or the bull taming event is the most popular of the many Jallikattu events that are organised during Pongal in mid-January. 

Though 11 January is being spoken of as the tentative date, the Ministry of External Affairs is yet to confirm the visit. But on the ground in Madurai, there is both excitement and concern at the prospect of Jallikattu 2020 going international. Excitement because the media publicity that will follow will ensure Alanganallur and Madurai city in general, witnesses development in terms of better roads, sanitation and other civic amenities. Concern because the space crunch will mean the security agencies will take over the village and reduce the cultural fest to a VVIP-only event, robbing the locals of participation in the festivities. 

Last year, when the CM of Tamil Nadu came to Alanganallur, there was resentment among villagers that the government had taken over the conduct of the event from the local organisers. A Modi-Putin Madurai Travels is bound to  keep everyone at a distance for security reasons. 

“But it will be a privilege to host them. It would attract global attention and give our Jallikattu and Alanganallur huge importance,” says Shalini. 

But if the visit materialises, it will go beyond positioning Tamil Nadu on the world map. The fact that this is part of Narendra Modi’s attempt to woo the Tamil Nadu voter is not lost on anyone. Starting with talking about Tamil being the oldest language and quoting Tamil poet Kaniyan Pungundranar at the United Nations General Assembly to making Mamallapuram the venue of his informal meet with Chinese President, Xi Jinping (pic below), Modi has made Tamil Nadu the centre piece of his diplomatic charm since September. The intention is to impress upon the Tamilian Modi’s love for the land and its people. 

Whether it is the PM’s own idea or whether he is getting some great advice, one wouldn’t know. But Jallikattu could well be a political gamechanger. Not many have forgotten the Marina uprising to mount pressure to allow the conduct of the Jallikattu event in January 2017. Modi’s presence in Madurai will allow him to subtly take credit for ensuring opposition by animal rights activists did not derail Tamil Nadu’s rural cultural festival, celebrated during Pongal. 

In a metaphorical sense, Modi – whose NDA alliance with the AIADMK received a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, winning just 1/39 seats – is taking the bull by its horns. With assembly elections in Tamil Nadu due in the summer of 2021, the Modi in Veshti look is bound to become a regular feature. And the Jallikattu event is sure to see him in the traditional Tamizh attire. 

But for the BJP to take electoral advantage of Modi’s `I Love Tamil Nadu and idli-vada-dosa-sambar’ narrative, it will need to ramp up its organisational strength. The Tamil Nadu party unit’s present cadre has a presence only over social media and its lack of charismatic leadership is a serious drawback. 

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