Cauvery dispute in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka: After Rajinikanth, actors still feel the heat

On Friday, as Karnataka logs out for a state-wide bandh over the Cauvery issue, the 52 Tamil satellite channels will be off air in Kannadiga land. Like it was in 2008, when cable TV operators pulled the plug on Tamil entertainment networks for days at end.

Tamil movies have already been removed from theatres in cities like Bengaluru and on Thursday, Tamil actor Vikram's Iru Mugan did not release across the Cauvery. Films have always suffered collateral damage whenever Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have gone to war over Cauvery.

Look at the irony of it. Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa was born in Mandya district, the ground zero of the anti-Tamil Nadu protests in the Cauvery delta in south Karnataka. Her films with MGR were well received in Karnataka as well. Yet the two states find it politically convenient not to talk to each other and pit Kannadigas and Tamilians in eyeball to eyeball confrontation over river water sharing.

Superstar Rajinikanth for Bengalureans is Namma Rajini (Our Rajini), having spent his formative years working as a bus conductor in the city, before he made it big in the Tamil film industry. Yet when Cauvery witnesses fireworks, he has to make a choice — this side or that side.

Siddaramaiah fiddles while he watches the more militant among the farmer groups take over. The Karnataka chief minister and his irrigation minister were guilty of upping the ante, making it appear as if they won't spare a drop of water to Tamil Nadu. They failed to communicate that river water sharing is law in a federal structure. Now when 15000 cusecs of water is being released everyday after the Supreme court order, the situation at least in south Karnataka districts is volatile. Karnataka farmers are behaving as if the water is going from their bucket and that they are doing Tamil Nadu a favour, annoying farmers in the lower riparian state no end.

Into this already inflamed scenario step in Kannada actors. Under pressure from protesters that they have not publicly supported the Karnataka stand on Cauvery, actor Ragini Dwivedi put out a video message on her Twitter handle with the hashtag #FightforNammaCauvery, openly calling for defiance of the Supreme court order.

She said in Kannada: "Cauvery is ours, we will not let it go. Why should we give water when we don't have any? Come out for the struggle, stand with the farmers. I am supporting the farmers, you too should.''

Whatever be the circumstances the message was recorded under, it was irresponsible on Ragini's part to pander to her constituency in Karnataka at the cost of public order.

In the last three days, farmers have raised slogans against two actors-turned-politicians from Mandya, Ambareesh and Ramya. They burnt posters of Sudeep-starrer Kotigobba 2. It had the desired effect. Sudeep tweeted his support to the Karnataka stand on Cauvery.

The cauvery dispute has affected the film industry on both sides of the river. Images courtesy: WikiCommons

The Cauvery dispute has affected the film industry on both sides of the river. Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The two Kannada releases on Friday, Mungaru Male 2 and Golisoda have been postponed and film shootings in Karnataka suspended for the day. Everyone is expected to wear his Kannadiga identity on his sleeve and film stars, being soft targets, cannot afford to take any chances.

As Rajinikanth realised in 2008.

The Karnataka Rakshana Vedike had then threatened to stall the release of his Tamil film Kuselan in Karnataka because Rajinikanth, during the row over the Hogenakkal project, had used the phrase 'kick them'. The project was to provide drinking water from the Cauvery to border districts of Tamil Nadu. The Vedike objected saying Rajinikanth ought to apologise for his "indecent language'' if he wanted Kuselan to release.

Rajinikanth blinked first. He tendered an unconditional apology clarifying 'kick them' was meant for lumpen elements and he did not mean to hurt Kannadiga sentiments.

But the apology created a furore in Tamil Nadu with fellow actor Sarath Kumar, then the president of the Artistes Association, calling it a "disgrace to his fans in Tamil Nadu'' and reminding Rajini that he was made a superstar by the people of Tamil Nadu.

When Cauvery is on the boil, a wrong stand can scorch you and leave you out in the cold. 2008 was not the first time Rajinikanth faced this situation. In 2002, he sat on a hunger strike in Chennai demanding Tamil Nadu's share of the Cauvery water. In retaliation, screenings of Rajinikanth-starrer Baba were disrupted. This time, the Artistes Association has not decided on any protest so far, waiting how things unfold on Friday and during the court hearing next week.

Worried that miscreants may create trouble, the Bengaluru Tamil Sangam has met Karnataka home minister G Parameshwara and asked for protection to the 35 lakh Tamil-speaking population in the city. Quite a sorry state of affairs considering Bengaluru was one of the first cities to reach out to help flood-hit Chennai in December last year.

Water in its different forms, brings out the best and the worst in men and women.

Updated Date: Sep 12, 2016 15:04 PM

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