The dices of three Congress leaders in the South rolled this month and produced varying results. While two of them were chief ministers, one just got the opportunity to show if he has what it takes to be a leader of consequence.
River Cauvery tested the acumen of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and found him wanting. That is the State the river originates from before she enters Tamil Nadu and feeds and nurtures its grain bowl. Since for most of the year the Cauvery lies trapped in Karnataka’s reservoirs, Tamil Nadu has struggled for decades to get her rightful share.
In 2007, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal crafted a final award along with a monthly break-up on sharing water. Six years later, on the Supreme Court’s nudge, the final award was written in stone as it was notified in the Central Gazette in 2013.
What was leftover was the creation of a Cauvery Management Board and a Cauvery Water Regulation Committee to implement the gazette notification. Since the Centre is yet to create them, and Karnataka keeps impounding water, Tamil Nadu had to go to the Supreme Court to get its fair share.
Karnataka justified its refusal to release water saying this was a distress year, but the tribunal’s final award had a formula for deficient rainfall periods as well. The bottom line, Tamil Nadu said, was sharing — distress or otherwise.
Had that distress formula come into play there would have been no issues. But the Siddaramaiah government was categorical in its refusal, forcing the Supreme Court on September 5 to order interim relief to Tamil Nadu farmers waiting to sow the samba crop, by releasing 15,000 cusecs for 10 days. As if on cue, parts of Karnataka erupted.
Cauvery has a very volatile history and arson and bandhs are commonplace. If Siddaramaiah tried to control the mobs with the firmness that is expected of an able administrator, there was little evidence to establish it. Critics claimed he chose to use a soft hand with an eye on Kannadiga votes for the Assembly elections that are due in two years.
And on the day Bengaluru burnt, he wrote to his Tamil Nadu counterpart to protect Kannadigas after stray violence in which one of them was assaulted in Rameswaram and promptly released it on Twitter to score brownie points. Jayalalithaa pounced on the opportunity and gave it back to him saying he should mind his State instead since the situation there was really serious.
Siddaramaiah’s final misstep was the knock on the Supreme Court door to seek modification of its order on interim relief citing public unrest and turmoil. The court saw in it his attempt to use vandalism as an instrument of State policy and lectured him on the importance of a redline.
“An order of this Court has to be complied with by all concerned and it is the obligation of the Executive to see that the order is complied with in letter and spirit. Concept of deviancy has no room; and disobedience has no space,” the Bench thundered.
The court partially accepted Karnataka’s plea and reduced the outflow to 12,000 cusecs but inserted a rider that it should be released for five more days till September 20. In effect, Tamil Nadu stood to get more — while the earlier interim order would have fetched about 13 tmcft, the new one offered a total of 14.8 tmcft. Siddaramaiah’s predicament reminds one of the fable of a man punished to face 100 whiplashes or eat 100 chillies, ending up having both.
The second Congress chief minister who was under the glare was V Narayanasamy. He reacted differently when Lt Governor Kiran Bedi threw a fit after his ministerial team and babus failed to join her weekly Swachh Puducherry outdoor activity.
He saw no reason to pick a quarrel — unlike Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal who does not miss any opportunity to fight his L-G Najeeb Jung — and asked his team to participate in Bedi’s initiative. Narayanasamy knows when it is right to strike and when to yield. That is what seasoning in administration does to politicians.
Talking about seasoning, the third Congress newsmaker is as seasoned as you will get. Newly appointed president of the faction-ridden Tamil Nadu Congress Su Thirunavukkarasar has an impressive CV but two big deficiencies.
One, he does not have the genes of a Congress parivar; and two, he is a party hopper who spent a few years in the BJP. Till about a decade ago, these attributes would have straightaway disqualified him from the race. Party vice president Rahul Gandhi, however, had a different take and decided to put him at the helm. Now that Thirunavukkarasar has entered the piranha-infested swamp of the TNCC by choice, his first test is to do well in the local bodies poll that is around the corner. He has his task cut out.
Assistant Resident Editor, Tamil Nadu