An agreement signed in 1892 over sharing the waters of the River Cauvery that flows through Tamil Nadu and Karnataka—which has been a political whirlpool for decades—is making waves in Karnataka in 2012. Karnataka’s says it doesn’t get enough water for its farmers in the Cauvery basin while Tamil Nadu says the interests of its farmers cannot be compromised.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s instruction to the state to release Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu has come as a boon to the BJP, JD(S) and others while putting the Congress in a spot. Last week Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar convened an all-party leaders’ meeting in Bangalore to discuss the issue. He also met Karnataka’s Congress leader and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna to plead his state’s case. He had staged a dramatic walkout from the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) meeting chaired by Manmohan Singh in New Delhi last week, after expressing Karnataka’s inability to release water to Tamil Nadu on a daily basis. The Congress in the state has been left with no other option but to come together with the BJP on the issue. “We are in a hopeless and helpless position,” said Congress state party president Siddaramaiah, who was forced to defend Shettar government’s stand to oppose the CRA order. Congress leader in the Legislative Council S R Patil added, “Farmers in the region can give blood but not water. It is just not possible to release water.” The irony is that while the Congress is campaigning to tarnish the BJP as a corrupt party, whose politicians are looting the state than protesting its interests, it is also forced to support the government. Considering the emotiveness of the Cauvery issue, the party has been forced to take a stand against its own prime minister’s decision. “We will fully support the (state) government initiatives. The decision of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) is not acceptable. We need to save standing crops in the state,” said Siddaramaiah.
Meanwhile, the JD(S) is trying to seize the space occupied by the BJP, which is plagued by dissidence and scams. The Congress does not have leaders of the stature of Patil, Bangarappa, Gundu Rao or Devraj Urs to lead it in the coming state polls. On the Cauvery issue, Janata Dal patriarch Deve Gowda decided to take a statesmanlike stance when he expressed anguish over the prime minister’s directions to release water to Tamil Nadu. Dharnas, protests and ‘padayatras’ opposing the central decision are being used to increase the party’s high visibility as Karnataka’s biggest champion. JD(S) youth wing members, led by state vice-president Ashok Jairam and former MLC K T Srikante Gowda, took out a “seminude” procession on the busy Bangalore-Mysore highway on the Cauvery issue. Several leaders, including Cauvery River Protection Committee chairman G Made Gowda, MP N Chaluvarayanaswamy, former Union minister and actor Ambareesh, former ministers P M Narendraswamy and M S Athmananda, and MLAs Suresh Gowda, M Srinivas, C S Puttaraju, Kalpana Siddaraju and Ramesh Babu participated in a dharna in Mandya district. Jairam, a protégé of JD(S) strongman Kumaraswamy will took out a padayatra from Mandya to Rajbhavan against the Centre. Kumaraswamy supporters and Janata Dal workers staged a protest at Gandhi Square.
Even fringe outfits like Karnataka Navanirmana Sene have jumped into the fray. Activists laid siege to Krishna’s residence at Somanahalli village in Maddur last week demanding his resignation for his alleged negligence in solving the Cauvery water dispute. The prevailing drought in Karnataka has brought the Cauvery issue to the political forefront.
Even BS Yeddyurappa went on an unauthorized drought study, pulling up government officials fro negligence. Agriculture is the mainstay of Karnataka’s economy. The total irrigated area has reached up to 39.42 lakh hectares up from 16.76 lakh hectares in 1980-81. About 30 percent of the cultivable area is under irrigation and the rest 70 percent is dependent on rainfall. The monsoon more or less avoided Karnataka this year. Of the state’s 50-odd million inhabitants, only 10 per cent live in the cities. By cultivating the rural vote, the Cauvery issue may well determine the political fortunes of Karanataka’s parties as to who will capture Bangalore next.