As the dust settles on the Karnataka election soap opera (featuring intrigue, leaked calls, midnight courtroom drama and tears) a few ripples have been felt in the State’s southern neighbour of Tamil Nadu, its fate having been somewhat entangled in the Karnataka poll process. The Supreme Court, in February this year, modified the final award of the Cauvery Tribunal and ordered the Centre to frame a scheme to manage the river’s waters. The deadline given to the Centre was the end of March, a deadline no one expected the BJP government to meet, given the crucial Karnataka polls scheduled for May. To avoid producing a scheme that might hurt its chances in the southern state, the Centre risked angering the apex court on at least two occasions - once for asking for clarity on the court’s instructions, *after* its deadline had passed, next for arguing that the Cabinet hadn’t had time to clear the draft scheme as most of its members were campaigning in Karnataka!
Meanwhile in Tamil Nadu, protests, led by the opposition DMK, hit the State. Fringe Tamil nationalist groups that more and more seem to be moving towards the centre, even disrupted the IPL match of the home team, Chennai Super Kings, sending the franchise scurrying off to Maharashtra to play the rest of their games (to what end, one is not quite sure).
As soon as polling ended in Karnataka, the Centre produced its draft scheme, that has now been accepted along with Tamil Nadu’s key inputs. Does this then mean that farmers in the State will get any water? Karnataka had already told the court that it has no water to give Tamil Nadu. While the Tamil Nadu government has approved of the final scheme, hailing it a victory, the opposition has raised concerns over a key detail: The states maintain control over their dams. This doesn’t fill the bosoms of Tamils with great hope for water-sharing in the future.
Another interesting side-effect of the Karnataka polls is the alliance formed between the JD(S) and the Congress, and the parties’ success in thwarting a BJP bid to power. This may boost the efforts of regional parties trying to form a front capable of countering the BJP in 2019. In Tamil Nadu, DMK’s working president MK Stalin has already met with Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and held discussions on the matter. Stalin has also, cautiously, indicated support to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to form such a front. While giving the appearance of hedging his bets, he also notably congratulated the JD(S)-Congress alliance for thwarting the BJP.
Social media critics have spent time picking apart his language, as in his congratulatory tweet to 55-hour BJP CM Yeddyurappa he urged Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu; in his tweet on H D Kumaraswamy’s victory he did not raise the matter. This brings the issue around full circle: A day after Yeddyurappa’s resignation, BJP supporters in Tamil Nadu and online are mocking Stalin and other parties that welcomed the JD(S)-Congress alliance on the grounds that under HDK the State’s chances of getting any water out of Karnataka have become significantly bleaker. The argument is that the JD(S) has historically proven tougher to budge on the matter than the BJP.
It will be curious to see whether parties of the proposed anti-BJP front will manage to overcome regional issues and, indeed, history in order to cooperate towards building a national alliance. If that were the case, then perhaps Tamil Nadu can expect Karnataka to honour its end of the deal. On the other hand, the issue shows up the fault lines in any such proposed front: would the parties be willing and able to set aside their local interests, and history, to build a national coalition. In the midst of all this, now would be a good time to ask about the farmers of both states. If one were to set aside politics, there would be a lot that could be done to ensure access to water to farmers, including better storage and use of rainwater in years of good monsoons given that the river is water deficit. However, when a complex issue becomes ensnared in politics, a multidimensional problem, i.e lack of water, is reduced to one with a unidimensional solution, release Cauvery water. That is neither feasible, sustainable nor logical.
Assistant Resident Editor, Tamil Nadu