With Assembly elections due in a few months, Pongal -- the festival of harvest --- is drawing national party leaders to Tamil Nadu.
While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi watched Jallikattu, the famed bull taming sport at Madurai's Avaniapuram, BJP president J P Nadda landed in Chennai to celebrate Pongal in suburban Maduravoyal. Besides, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also arrived in the State Capital to participate in Pongal festivities.
The State BJP, which is trying to dispel the perception that it is a party of upper castes and elite, has been holding different outreach programmes in Tamil Nadu. After its recent Vetrivel Yatra, over the past few days it has been organising 'Namma Ooru Pongal' (our village Pongal) in the districts. Nadda participated in one such celebration before heading to the Thuglak magazine's annual event.
Rahul Gandhi, who watched Jallikattu proceedings on Thursday, also used the occasion to criticise the farm laws and said the Centre will be forced to take them back.
The Congress leader, who was joined by DMK youth wing leader Udhayanidhi Stalin, praised Tamil culture and history.
“I have a message to those people, who think that they can run roughshod over the Tamil people, who think they can push aside Tamil language and Tamil culture. I have received tremendous love and affection from the people of Tamil Nadu and it is my duty to stand with the people of Tamil Nadu and protect their history, their culture and their language”, he said.
“I am happy to see that the Jallikattu is being organised in a systematic and safe way, so that both the bull and the youngsters are safe and everything is taken care of,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi's praise for Jallikattu drew criticism from sections of the BJP who recalled that former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had described the bull taming sport as "barbaric". Also it was during the erstwhile UPA regime that the bull was included in the list of non-performing animals, endangering the sport of Jallikattu.
Political observers see the visit of national leaders on Pongal as an attempt to culturally reach out to the people of the Dravidian land. "Unlike Deepavali or Vinayaga Chathurthi, which are seen by some Dravidian outfits and leaders as the festival of Aryans or Hindus, Pongal is seen as a festival of the Tamils. Therefore, connect is wider and in an election year such outreach is definitely a political event," said Mani, an analyst. However, he pointed out that such wider political outreach was not seen during previous elections. "This time the BJP has rediscovered the importance of larger Tamil culture and the Congress has followed suit. There is also an effort to articulate their respective position on the farm laws, as Pongal is dear to the farmers," he added.
Others recalled that former Chief Minister M G Ramachandran would meet people at his sprawling Ramavaram Gardens for Pongal and likewise DMK cadres would throng another former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's Gopalapuram house for Pongal to receive a Rs 10 currency note as token gift from him.