Stars to forefront
Political parties in Tamil Nadu have played a “me too’’ role in the spontaneous protest against the Jallikattu ban in the state. It is the social media and the film industry which took the lead. Film star Kamal Haasan fuelled the campaign with his provocative tweets. He remarked that if Jallikattu was banned, then why not biryani, that all animal slaughter should be considered cruelty to animals. He demanded that PETA quit India and not interfere in national politics, and suggested that instead, it should ban bull-riding rodeos in Mr Donald Trump’s USA. Not to be left behind, another popular star, Rajinikanth, was a part of the South Indian Film Association’s fast against the ban. Significantly, in several Tamil films, the hero tames the bull to prove his virility. With Jayalalithaa gone from the political scene and M Karunanidhi in poor health, a few popular film stars want to fill the vacuum ahead of the next elections.
Saturday before last, Tamil Nadu was on tenterhooks and the ruling AIADMK was in panic because governor C Vidyasagar Rao hesitated for four hours before signing the state draft ordinance making Jallikattu legal. The AIADMK’s Twitter account first claimed victory, announcing that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, had been suitably amended, but a short while later, deleted the tweet as there was no word from Raj Bhavan. Even the PMO telephoned from Delhi, demanding to know the reason for the delay since President Pranab Mukherjee had approved the draft ordinance. It turned out that the hold-up was because of a telephone call from Kerala governor P Sathasivam, who cautioned Rao that a few clauses of the ordinance were wrongly drafted and a legal impediment could arise. Respecting the view of a fellow governor who was a former chief justice of India, Rao wanted to re-confirm with Delhi. Once the central government clarified that the clauses were in order, a relieved Rao signed the papers.
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Amar Singh, who has been ousted for all practical purposes from the Samajwadi Party because of differences with Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, makes a dangerous foe. He remarked to a journalist that he was like a bull looking for new pastures. Political circles wonder whom Singh will ally with next. Singh claims privately that he has a trunk full of tapes on prominent people which, if released, would be like a nuclear bomb, but says he won’t press the button, at least for now. Singh apparently keeps his tapes in a third country and not a prominent one at that.
It is not merely the BJP and Congress which have inducted young, savvy, well-educated backroom boys who exert far more clout than their low-key positions suggest. Akhilesh Yadav has a key adviser in Abhishek Mishra, a 39-year-old MLA, who was earlier a professor at IIM Ahmedabad and has a PhD from Cambridge. Mishra wears kurtas when he makes political rounds and denim trousers when at home. He has often negotiated on behalf of the UP government with big business houses, both Indian and foreign, and even with central government bodies. The buzz in Lucknow is that Mishra played a part in urging Akhilesh to focus his campaign strategy around himself rather than making his father Mulayam Singh Yadav the central figure. (One of the reasons why Mulayam and Shivpal Yadav were up in arms.) Now that Mulayam has conceded the pre-eminent position in the party to his son, Akhilesh’s campaign posters have subtly changed. Some posters depict large photos of ‘Netaji’ with Akhilesh bowing reverentially to him as a dutiful son. Once Akhilesh had asserted his supremacy, he needed to cash in on the lingering goodwill for Mulayam.
The Samajwadi Party and Congress have an uneasy alliance. Neither Rahul Gandhi nor Akhilesh Yadav was present in Lucknow when the alliance was announced. Instead the anonymous Naresh Uttam, the SP UP chief, and a visibly uncomfortable Raj Babbar, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief, presided over the press conference. Rahul’s advisers did not want him to be in the same frame as Akhilesh so early in the campaign, as that would imply they were leaders of equal stature, whereas they consider Rahul a national leader and Akhilesh a state leader. The SP does not believe that there will be much transfer of votes from the Congress to it. The advantage to it is more in terms of a message to Muslim voters, projecting a national image and hopes of assistance from the Congress treasury chest.