Chennai has not witnessed such a scene: students in thousands assembling at the Marina Beach to voice their protest. The long row of statues from Mahatma Gandhi to Tiruvalluvar to Subramania Bharati, Avvaiyar and Kannagi installed along the Marina, should kindle thoughts on the valour of the glorious past and the power of organised protest. For a week Chennai witnessed students voicing their protest over the ban on jallikattu spontaneously. Without violence. Keeping off the two powerful sections, politicians and film personalities, which have been dominating Tamil life for over five decades. The large gathering of young men and women braved the inconveniences of sitting together 24x7 for six days not bothered about food, drinking water or even the absence of essential toilet facilities.
Such power seen last in 1965...
After 52 years Chennai and Tamil Nadu witnessed student power. Yes, the last time such power was exercised was in 1965 when the state rose as one man to protest against the imposition of Hindi and wrested the assurance from the Centre that it would not be done.
There was unanimity in demanding the ban on jallikattu by vast sections of the Tamils spread across the country, even the globe. All political parties demanded this but there was the constraint of the order of the highest court of the land banning it. The state leadership was bound to respect this and had to prevent these at Alanganallur and other places during the Pongal week. In several places across southern Tamil Nadu it was conducted braving the ban but the state government discretely allowed these.
A caring Chief Minister...
Chief Minister O Panneer Selvam rushed to Delhi to seek a solution. His meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi resulted in his finding it. Delhi pointed out that sports being in the concurrent list, the state had the power to enact a new law permitting jallikattu. The Chief Minister stayed back in Delhi to consult legal experts, the home and environment ministries and, on return to Chennai, promptly promulgated an ordinance through the Governor. The students were still not convinced and demanded the assurance of a permanent solution. OPS pointed to convening the state assembly to pass the bill to this effect.
Thus the unprecedented and spontaneous chorus of student power achieved its demand granted. Such unity of purpose achieved through such organised attempts without violence and bringing about desired changes augured well for democracy.
For long such protests by large sections of Tamils have revolved around emotive issues like imposition of Hindi, Sri Lankan Tamils, etc. Such student power should also be directed towards correcting several issues relating to development like the poor state of the state’s finances, poor performance of the state in imparting quality education, the over-emphasis on competitive populism indulged in by the two major political parties, the DMK and its offshoot AIADMK, through freebies and subsidies.
It is true, this policy has been effective in winning elections for these two parties; but it has denied the state drawing its full potential. There has been the absence of working on a long term vision for taking the state through accelerated economic development. I cite a few instances: