Jallikattu body art on one of the protestors. Pic Courtesy: indianexpress.com

How the Govt. benefits most from the Jallikattu Protest violence

The week before the Tamil festival of Pongal, small and peaceful sit-downs mushroomed in a few towns of Tamil Nadu, demanding state permission for villages to conduct Jallikattu at the earliest, in light of a ban imposed by the Supreme Court of India. Most of these sit-downs did not have a formal leader, but there was usually a Facebook page for the issue in point, the moderator(s) of which went on to become a leader of sorts — one who would lead not with his person but through his words via the social media page.

Borne out of Twitter and Facebook, and fueled by decades-long indifference of the center towards this introvert of a state that regularly contributes more than its fair share to the federal as well as cultural treasury, these asynchronous student/youth led protests across the state quickly and inadvertently evolved into one colossal beast of a movement with people from all walks of life joining in, including parents with their newborns, public servants and police officers. That it was youth-run made it all the more effective and all the more unbelievable. This great people’s movement, inspiring similar peaceful protests across the globe by the Tamil diaspora in the Middle-East, Canada, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, etc., had almost taken the form of a revolution. The world watched in sweet disbelief as this completely non-violent, gentlemanly and inspiring movement, thundering with a singular demand for the farmers by the common man, devoid of leaders or vested interest, made the Prime Minister and President of a very red-taped India promulgate a law in favour of Jallikattu, all within 4 historic days. When the on-break State Legislative Assembly reconvenes, politicians would vote this promulgated law into an actual law.

Rightly making headlines even in other countries, this was the first time since the Indian Independence Movement that anyone anywhere in the last 70 years was using non-violent protest to successfully challenge authority and government. As soon as news of the Promulgated Law came out, several icons who had emerged during this leaderless movement, made speeches asking people to continue protesting until the indelible Legislative vote, while also to remember to protest in the future, against corrupt politicians, against ineffective regimes, against denied rights and delayed justice. Aware of the shameful state of Indian politics, the despondent and determined protesters insisted on waiting right until the actual law would be voted in. It needs to be noted that until this point, there was no need for a leader. Going with the flow of the river needs inaction. In this equation, continuing to protest was inaction which needed no leader to announce. Here is where the movement, for the first time, required a Leader — to strategize the next step and convince/communicate to the mass.

With less than 2 days left for the Legislative Assembly to reconvene, the Police Department and Intelligence Agencies claim, Tamil Secessionists, Naxalites, Maoists and other anti-social elements had merged into protests to further their independent agendas. There was a marked change in the tone and degree of protests across the state, examples ranging from vulgar anti-federal slogans to people mounted on boats arriving at those protests that were being conducted on beaches. There were also stray photos surfacing on social media of Osama Bin Laden stickers on a motor-scooter and burning of the Indian Flag. Yet, unto then there was no violence. Here is where the movement, for the second time, required a Leader.

A day later i.e. on the morning of the Legislative Assembly session, police forces in all protest venues, who were until then extremely supportive of the protests, requested the crowds to disperse. Some factions of the crowd in many of the venues did disperse. Some factions refused and some other factions acted up. Here is where the movement, for the third and most important time, required a Leader.

Until this point, peace prevailed. However, within the hour, the state was up in violence. Police Forces and Snatch Squads had been deployed, dispersing and baton charging at protesters. Some people were seen bleeding through the face, while some others were seen rioting and pelting stones at advancing police forces. A volley of fake, real, morphed and staged images and footage, mostly symbolizing police forces with human rights violations, surfaced on main-stream media channels, social media streams such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as internet messaging services such as WhatsApp.

Some say exasperated non-violent protesters initiated violence. Some others say that anti-social elements who were pretending to be non-violent protesters sighted a closing window of opportunity and initiated violence. Many claim the Government mandated the use of force to disperse the protest. But why would the Government authorize force and ensue havoc in the capital, especially when in a few hours it would give the protesters what they wanted a second time and earn a good name? Let’s explore why…

  1. The legislative vote that would happen later in the day could motivate protesters to expand their demands or catalyze subsequent protests, painting a fairy-tale in the people’s mind that it is as simple to run a government. This would encourage people to make a virtue out of bypassing formal procedure and arm-twisting authority.
  2. The Government already bent its knee once when it sought a promulgated law via Delhi. It wouldn’t want to bend its knee and lose face a second time (not completely) to a crowd that was growing increasingly dissenting and thumping its chest of being right — now proven wrong by becoming indirectly responsible for the riots.
  3. Now that this common-man led peaceful protest has gone violently sour, it questions the very sustainability of the concept. The next time people want to rise in revolt armed with the claim of non-violence, whether there is a leader or not, this anti-climax will sow in them hesitation and self-doubt simply out of fear for his and the other man’s life.
Hence, by using violence the Government gets to not only disperse non-violent protesters but also disprove the very idea of non-violent protest.

While this million-strong revolution imploded, the Assembly voted unanimously. The protesters had gotten what they demanded, Jallikattu would be conducted and the Government had delivered. The spirit of Jallikattu and the spirit of farming had been upheld. But the spirit of this movement had not been — the spirit of giving the weapon of non-violent protest to the common man to use as a warrant of participatory democracy a.k.a direct democracy had not been upheld. Any king would want this very thing — his enemy defeated and the spirit of his enemy broken so his enemy remains defeated.

It is unclear if the Government tactically used violence or was it only in response; if there was actual threat or just an imminent one from anti-social fringes. But what is clear is that the Government gains the most from the violence; more than the protesters or any other player. Given below is a complete breakdown of where and how much the Government gains from this violent finale, which it did or did not orchestrate:

Power Implication Analyses of 2017 Jallikattu Protest Riots

Green color highlights a favorable situation
Orange color highlights a neutral situation
Red color highlights an unfavorable situation

The 2017 Pro-Jallikattu Movement, as it came to be called, lived a life like no other, but died a death like every other. ‘Leaderless’ — was its most virtuous advantage as well as most vicious disadvantage.