by Meenakshi Iyer
New Delhi: With the 125-year-old hostility over sharing of Cauvery waters spilling onto the streets of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and both states crawling to a standstill for days — one is reminded of the famous quote by Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over!”
One person dead, nearly 100 buses burnt and nearly 20,000 crore worth of properties damaged, is a sad reminder of the fact that the wars of 21st century will be fought not just over water, but regional identities as well.
If this sounds like a hyperbole, picture this: In Karnataka, buses with Tamil Nadu number plates were torched, Tamil TV channels were taken off air, and movies starring Tamil actors were removed from theaters. Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, Udupi hotels and Karnataka bank branches attacked.
“Seeing all these barricades at the border… it feels less like two states fighting and more like two countries fighting,” D. Saravanan, a Bengaluru resident, who travels everyday to Chennai for work, told Lokmarg.com.
Even the vernacular journalists choose to wear their Kannada and Tamil identities round their neck and are seen furthering regional divides by saying things like, “What will happen if peace-loving Kannadigas take revenge?”
Originating in Kodagu district of Karnataka, the Cauvery flows through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, culminating in a huge delta that opens into Bay of Bengal via Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu.
The two southern Indian states have been at loggerheads ever since agreements on water sharing were inked under British rule in 1892 and 1924 with each state claiming that the waters allocated to it were sparse. A poor rainfall, which brought down the river’s water level, would only worsen the situation, like it did in the years 1995 and 2002.
What hits below the belt is that India can resolve its water squabbles with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, but not the ones emanating within its own territory.
The Cauvery dispute snowballed into mayhem when Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court in August, this year, after Karnataka stated that it had no water in the reservoirs to share. It was based on this complaint, that the Supreme Court asked Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs (later modified to 12,000 cusecs) of water for 10 days.
All it requires for the row to be solved is effective governance and immediate dialogue; instead, the issue has been blown out of proportion by fringe elements aiming for a political voteshare.
Vatal Nagaraj of Kannada Okkoota, an organisation that had called for Karnataka shutdown, told a TV channel that people who live in Karnataka “must support the Karnataka cause”, irrespective of where they hailed from.
Nagaraj didn’t clarify what he intends to do with a quarter of 10 million people in Bengaluru who are Tamils — the second largest community after Kannadigas. The veiled message was clear enough – “leave”.
The water row further seemed to take a jingoistic overtones when social media was asked to use hashtag #NammaKaveri (translates as our Kaveri, to stress on the river’s ownership) instead of #KarnatakaBandh.
The point is – why draw a common man on the street into the conflict? Where was the need for an educated 25 year-old mechanical engineer to immolate himself? He was probably just one in a thousand youths getting succumbed to false Tamil pride!
If anything, the way Cauvery water row has been tackled implies sheer failure of the state governance.
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in the issue and requested him to arrange his meeting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa? Why couldn’t Siddaramaiah do that himself? Why didn’t he call Jayalalithaa, or the other way round?
The leaders need to take cue from MG Ramachandran, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in the eighties, who landed in person at the doorstep of then Karnataka CM Ramakrishna Hegde when the latter had refused to release water. The result of the meeting was that the water was released the very next day.
It is for the Cauvery Management Board, respective state authorities and Cauvery Regulation Committee to iron out the technicalities of water-sharing, not power hungry politicians and rioters, not people of the two states and definitely, not the big ticket celebrities and film stars. Mind it!