13 JANUARY 2016
A political misadventure
Political opportunism in an election year often takes the form of dubious actions by the executive, and inevitably runs into a judicial barrier. By staying the Union government’s recent notification aimed at permitting jallikattu, the popular bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu, along with bullock cart races in some other States, the Supreme Court has stopped the Centre’s needless misadventure in its tracks. The festivities associated with the harvest festival of Pongal in Tamil Nadu went off without jallikattu in 2015 after the Supreme Court’s May 2014 judgment prohibiting the sport on the ground that it perpetrates cruelty on animals and endangers the lives of the participants. The State government ensured peace and prevented any unrest last year, despite considerable unease and anger among the rural population. There is no reason why it could not have continued to practise the same restraint and wisdom in accepting the court verdict. On the contrary, the issue became politicised in the run-up to the Assembly election that is due in a few months from now. Political parties stoked popular sentiment in favour of reviving jallikattu by demanding measures to circumvent the judicial bar. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, looking to find a foothold in the political fray in Tamil Nadu, made a calculated move by amending a 2011 notification that prevented bulls from being exhibited or trained as performing animals, by exempting bulls deployed in jallikattu and cart-racing from its purview. The party will now have to live with the criticism that it knew that the notification would be stayed, and all it was looking for was some political capital.
The Centre will have to explain why it tried to get around a court verdict through a mere executive notification, when it is common knowledge that it can be done only through legislation that removes the basis for the judgment and not merely by tweaking some regulations. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has now urged the Centre to promulgate an ordinance to save the traditional sport, but even that may be no solution. The law laid down by the Supreme Court is fortified by several legal formulations. In a harmonious reading of animal rights in the context of the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (UDAW), the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Constitution, the court has ruled that animals have a right against human beings inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on them. In effect, the entire sport has been declared violative of the law against cruelty. Treating animals in a humane, non-exploitative way is now a constitutional requirement for any executive action related to them. The State’s earlier regulatory Act on jallikattu was dismissed as an anthropocentric law that was repugnant to the eco-centric law against cruelty to animals. Instead of continuing this artificial confrontation between tradition and modern law, Tamil Nadu would do well to stop spearheading the cause of jallikattu, which is but a relic of a feudal past.
Individual brilliance, derivative success
Argentine and FC Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi has reclaimed the billing as the best footballer in the world by winning his fifth Ballon d’Or award in the last eight years, a stupendous record considering no other player has won more than three such awards. Portuguese and FC Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo finished second after having won in the previous two years. That both players have finished in the top two in the award nominations since 2011 suggests that they are the best two footballers in the world by some margin. Messi is the better player, combining the highest form of three important qualities — dribbling, passing and goal-scoring — in one footballer. Ronaldo is as much and perhaps even more a sure finisher. But having them in the Argentina and Portugal national teams is no guarantee for success. The fact that neither of them has experienced the highest form of international success for their respective countries — Messi’s Argentina lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and Ronaldo’s Portugal reached the 2004 Euro final before the player reached his peak — suggests that their respective awards were a function of their clubs’ overall success. Messi’s Ballon d’Or, for example, followed FC Barcelona’s three victories in the UEFA Champions League, the Spanish La Liga and the Copa Del Rey in 2015.
Indeed, Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid have dominated club football in the past few years, the former more so. These clubs have also designed their pattern and style of play in such a way that the abilities and output of their two key players and goal-scorers in Messi and Ronaldo have been maximised. Real Madrid’s strategy of buying the most attack-minded players in the world and Barcelona’s nearly two-decades-long approach of building a squad based on a particular style of play and combining home-grown and bought talent has complemented the strengths of Ronaldo and Messi, respectively. These advantages are lacking in a national set-up, where the team squads are drawn from a more limited pool and their frequency of playing and training together is limited compared to the almost perennial club football. Consequently, the individual successes and strengths of both Messi and Ronaldo have not translated into national glory. Ronaldo’s goal-scoring record for Real Madrid of 338 goals in 325 games and Messi’s 430 goals in 503 games and a record 26 trophies tower over their respective national team outputs. These numbers re-emphasise the team nature of the sport. Ronaldo must thank his colleagues Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema and others for consistently putting him in a position to deliver for his club; Messi’s success is predicated upon the cohesion of Barcelona and the brilliance of Neymar, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique.