‘Rahul has genuine interest in jallikattu, visit not political’

TNCC president says he doesn’t believe DMK will field Jagathratchagan as its chief ministerial candidate in Puducherry

Denying that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attended a jallikattu event on Pongal day only to gain political mileage, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president K.S. Alagiri on Saturday said he had a genuine interest in the sport. In an interview, he was hopeful that the Congress ally, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, would not field former Union Minister S. Jagathratchagan as the chief ministerial candidate in Puducherry. Excerpts:

Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Madurai to witness jallikattu has evoked criticism as the bull-taming sport had encountered trouble during the UPA regime…

Jallikattu took place until 2014 without hitch. There was a stay from the Supreme Court, and an appeal was filed.

The UPA government also enacted legislation to pave the way for the conduct of the ancient Tamil sport. So long as the UPA was in power, it was not stopped.

But Union Minister Jairam Ramesh had described it a barbaric sport…

There could be many opinions in a government. Legislation seeking to prevent cruelties to animals was enacted as early as the 1960s.

His opinion could have been shaped by those laws. But the Cabinet Committee did not accept the proposal to stop jallikattu. The pressure from the State and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi ensured that jallikattu took place without any problem. It was stopped when the BJP came to power. Had the BJP government argued in favour of jallikattu in the Supreme Court, it would not have been stopped. Because the BJP government had to listen to the RSS, it would have assumed that the game amounted to cruelty to cows.

What is Mr. Gandhi’s stand on jallikattu? Did he attend the event to gain political mileage?

He asked me whether bulls would be tortured or injured. I told him that as far as I knew bulls had not died and only the tamers got killed and injured. When a bull tossed a tamer into the air, he said, “You are right. Only men are injured.” He has a genuine interest in the sport, and his visit was not political.

Will his visit help the Congress in Tamil Nadu?

His visit has become viral. It has earned appreciation from the people. Even the commentators at jallikattu said that had Mr. Gandhi attended the event some years ago, it would have earned much-needed publicity and ensured its conduct without problem.

There are reports that the DMK plans to field former Union Minister S. Jagathratchagan as the chief ministerial candidate in Puducherry…

I have to get details of what has led to this speculation. I believe that nothing of that sort will happen.

Are vested interests at work here?

I do not think so. I read the news report. I have to speak to Congress and DMK leaders in Puducherry on this.

What are the prospects of the DMK-Congress alliance in the Tamil Nadu Assembly election?

We launched our campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Mr. Gandhi will tour the western districts on January 23, 24 and 25. What works in favour of our alliance is that we have already declared DMK president M.K. Stalin our chief ministerial candidate. But the AIADMK-led alliance is not able to say who will be its chief ministerial candidate. [Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has been named the AIADMK’s candidate for the top post.] The BJP and the PMK say they will announce their stand. AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam has not expressed his view on the subject [beyond endorsing Mr. Palaniswami at a party meeting].

How do you respond to the criticism that the DMK is anti-Hindu?

When the issue was raised a long time ago, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai propounded the dictum, ‘One god and one race’. It ran counter to the ideology of the Dravidian Movement. His objective was to clarify that the DMK was only against certain teachings and not against the religion itself.

The DMK has never campaigned against any religion. It is the BJP’s campaign to project the DMK as an anti-Hindu party.

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