With the first tranche of the Cauvery water flowing into Tamil Nadu, the Karnataka government can in fact heave a sigh of relief as the unpredictable headache that the water symbolised is more or less over without major political mishaps.
But that it was a timely rap by the Supreme Court and not the sagacity of our rulers that prevented a possible fare-up, once again, exposes the proclivity of our politicians towards narrow political gains than public order during sensitive situations.
Releasing Cauvery water, against the state’s will, is the most significant event, that could easily slip into a flashpoint, whenever there is a dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. For the same reasons, it is customary for the ruling establishment in Karnataka to say that they won’t release a drop of water. Tantrums and vehemence are also part of this posturing. The indiscreet attack and unreasonable demands by other politicians are part of this custom too.
However, the tough Supreme Court intervention that asked Karnataka to comply with the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) order or face contempt action, has come as a blessing in disguise for Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar and his government. The court’s rap enabled Shettar to plead helplessness, and to promise to continue fighting for the state’s interests while complying with the CRA’s order.
It’s vital to note the Supreme Court’s indispensability in handling inter-state disputes when politicians are so disruptive, predictable and inefficient in handling the situation.
They rarely see reason, but only seek to exploit what is expedient and they are hardly able to rise up to their primacy in democracy. Had the Supreme Court not put its foot down this time, the Karnataka politicians and the chauvinistic outfits would have made a mess of the situation yet again. Not that they are still not capable to doing it; but the Supreme Court observation makes it incumbent upon the government to keep things under control.
On the other side of the border, leaders such as Vaiko, Nedumaran and Thiumavalavan will be ready with a non-state response, as Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa trade charges against each other.
The fate of the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the water from Mullaperiyar dam is an interesting parallel.
The issue appeared to be a political tinderbox for a long time till an expert committee of the Supreme Court settled it in favour of Tamil Nadu. Politicians and native groups, including the itinerant environment activists, stoked sub-national pride, fear and panic among the people of the five districts around the dam in Kerala.
All of Kerala was gripped by an irrational fever about the dam. The lead protestors and local politicians told people that the dam would breach and about 20 million people and their properties would be washed away. But, finally when the expert committee declared the dam safe, the panic and protest withered away in no time. People who prophesied a near certain disaster have disappeared, and many of the anti-dam agitators are now focussing their attention on the dangers of Kudankulam nuclear plant.
The political passion that the issue had aroused, or rather the politicians of both the state had whipped up, has also been been put to rest thanks to the court’s intervention. Now the politicians in Kerala can only promise to fight it legally.
The same fate should befall Cauvery as well because the politicians are behaving in a way that is against the harmony prevailing between the people of the two states. The local unit of the Congress, in a bind with its Prime Minister heading the CRA which asked the state to release water, cannot say anything against its high command, but can without qualms shift the goal post and accuse Shettar of forsaking the state’s interests.
The national unit of the BJP cannot speak against Jayalalithaa, but the local BJP unit cannot keep quiet either; the JD (S) does know that there is no other way but to release water, but would still want to make political capital. Meanwhile, those without immediate political expediencies can, for a change, sound reconciliatory and statesmanly like Yeddyurappa, who called for calm among the people of the state.
It’s such a pity that time and again our politicians fail in resolving situations which are essentially political. For opportunistic reasons, our elected rulers are unable to handle the lawlessness unleashed by the chauvinistic outfits that operate with the lowest common denominator.
The champions of political superiority over judicial intervention should thank our judges for cracking the whip from time when our politicians fail in their political duty as well.