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Undoing the law

Editorial |

The bulls have been “tamed”, albeit with hiccups like two men being gored to death and the chief minister forced to stay away from the festivity. It would, however, be silly to believe that the Jallikattu controversy will blow over for what transpired in Tamil Nadu raises queries that threaten the core of the system in which the rule of law generally prevails. The fire-fighting by the state and central governments functioning in tandem sets potentially dangerous precedents, it is no secret that the worst precedents are those most emulated. The fall-out of the ordinance issued by the government in Chennai, and acquiesced by New Delhi, points to the bankruptcy of the political leadership when facing a mass protest on an admittedly emotive issue. Attempting to undo the law is the easy way out, yet whether the Supreme Court (already irked by the government on several issues) will “play ball” with those using a “clever” escape route is a matter that will be carefully monitored. The apex court cannot be expected to approve a blatant “reversal” of its order, though their Lordships are sensitive enough not to react immediately. The complex, ominous, legal tangle has only just begun.

The Tamil Nadu government’s trying to wriggle out of a tricky situation may be understandable, the Modi government’s wilting under pressure from a potential political ally in the South is inexcusable. The argument that the “Marina Revolution” is a reflection of popular sentiment is specious: not because it is suspected that it was   covertly fuelled by political elements, but because the pressuring of the law to bow to a display of mass emotion can be replicated. Note that already have demands been made for reviving buffalo and bullock-cart races in Karnataka and Maharashtra ~ and that is only the thin edge of the wedge. Will, for example, the people of the  North-east, whose unique culture has been hit much harder than the alleged ignoring of Tamil sentiment, now be justified in reacting violently to being forced into the “mainstream”? Similar parallels could easily be drawn, some too frightening to even mention. For what has just been witnessed suggests that only a very thin line divides mass protest and mob rule. And whipping up religious and caste sentiment is a super-speciality of our netas.

There is another lesson to be learnt by those who make pretence to be “progressive”. Dubious social customs and traditions cannot be eradicated by legislative or judicial action. Had a serious campaign been mounted to explain to the masses that Jallikattu was a source of cruel shame, not a cultural pride, there may have been no Marina   Revolution: instead it could have a ripple effect that might make Pandora’s Box appear benign.