Cauvery water dispute: Politicians, officials and media only add to confusion not truth

Editor's note: This article was originally published on 10 September. It is being republished in light of the Supreme Court's orders to Karnataka on Monday, about the release of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.

Most, if not all, of the journalists in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka writing about the Cauvery dispute remind me of an 1869 short story by Mark Twain.

In this story, a journalist pens down a sentence this way:

John W. Blossom Esq., the able editor of the Higginsville Thunderbolt and Battle Cry of Freedom, arrived in the city yesterday. He is stopping at the Van Buren House.

The editor changes it into:

That ass, Blossom, of the Higginsville Thunderbolt and Battle Cry of Freedom, is down here again sponging at the Van Buren.

An adjective here or a metaphor there or a clever turn of phrase can turn fact into a half-truth or a lie or even slander.

Forget actors. Even journalists of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka join in the Cauvery battle, supporting the causes of their respective states. In both the states, they add to the cacophony of politicians, and bureaucrats who pander to them. So there, we have the awesome troika in both the states: Lying politicians, kowtowing officials and jingoistic journalists.

Bengaluru : Pro-Kannada activists burn the tyres during Karnataka Bandh called in against the Supreme Court verdict on Cauvery water in Bengaluru on Friday. PTI Photo by Shailendra Bhojak (PTI9_9_2016_000097B)

Pro-Kannada activists during the Karnataka bandh. PTI

For all of them, statistics come in handy. As American humorist Evan Esar once famously said, statistics can help you produce
"unreliable facts from reliable figures".

So the awesome troikas keep the Cauvery dispute alive and kicking.

That’s why, when the rains don’t come, madness does. You hear, both in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, war cries like those of the prehistoric Huaorani tribesmen in the Amazonian jungles.

Tamil movies are stopped in Bengaluru, and Tamils run for cover.

And that’s enough for social media’s verbal terrorists to depict the wonderful city of Bengaluru — as if it was the first one to invent a bandh in India — as a monster with ugly horns and protruding teeth, out to wipe out Tamils and Tamil Nadu from the face of earth. They forget that Kannadigas are more tolerant to outsiders than any in India, and that Bengaluru is the most cosmopolitan of the country’s cities. Do they remember what was done to Biharis in Mumbai once? They don’t. And they forget that Karnataka has gifted India with an IT capital. It has a pretty face, and a few blemishes like Vatal Nagaraj can’t turn it into an ugly beast. Nagaraj doesn’t represent Kannadigas, even if he thinks he does.

The whole issue should have been considered resolved on 5 February, 2007, when the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal delivered its award.

The dispute lasted a century. And then for a decade, there was debate over setting up a tribunal to resolve it once for all. Then the tribunal deliberated on it for 17 years and gave its award. It apportioned the water among the states, and it even said what should be done when the monsoon failed and who should ensure the allocation of shares between states.

As I reported on that day, Karnataka’s counsel before the tribunal, FS Nariman even said: "The (tribunal’s) decision is satisfactory for all parties concerned."

But along with rains, truth becomes scarce when the monsoon fails. And the farmer suffers nightmares, when he's told he wouldn’t get enough water his crop. Human misery in both states, not politics, starts the fire. The awesome troika fans the flames in each state.

Farmers in Karnataka are not ignoramuses. They know "some" of the water, whatever there is of it, must flow down the river to Tamil Nadu. Farmers in Tamil Nadu are not dumb idiots either. They know Karnataka would release "some" water. But you can’t blame them for not being able to quantify this "some".

A woman by the banks of Cauvery. Reuters

A woman by the banks of Cauvery. Reuters

Farmers in both states have no way of knowing how much water there really is in the river or reservoirs and what’s the right share of each state when the monsoon fails, and how much water they can expect for their crops. They must only rely on the awesome troikas: Lying politicians, kowtowing officials and jingoistic journalists. That’s when the trouble begins.

By Karnataka’s own admission, its reservoirs have some 50 tmcft of water. But, however much water there is, shouldn't Karnataka ensure that Tamil Nadu gets 56 percent of it in a water year beginning June? The tribunal’s formula, gazetted by the central government, is the law of the land. And shouldn’t facts be told to Karnataka farmers?

And Tamil Nadu says it’s short of more than 80 tmcft of water. Where does Jayalalithaa think Siddaramaiah can produce it from? Is he a rain god? Or does she expect him to lug it from the Krishna or the Godavari and pour into the Cauvery so that her farmers can get it? Shouldn’t facts be told to Tamil Nadu farmers?

When truth becomes a casualty, you end up with only babble and bedlam.

Adding to the information terror is the constant whining from people, who are not sure what they are whining about. So we have a tweet showing random photographs of lush green fields in Karnataka. Then comes a wild taunt by an actor, who won’t know the difference between a cusec and a tmcft, who can’t tell the difference between a canal and a field channel and who has never probably stepped into a paddy field except for a sexy hip-hop scene with a heroine after rubbing lotion on his flawless skin.

It’s only truthful information that can keep tempers of the farmers under control. The state governments have machineries to do that job. They are called agriculture departments. It’s their job to keep farmers informed about the possibility of a monsoon failure and about possible changes in crops and harvesting patterns they could make.

By Karnataka’s own admission, its reservoirs have some 50 tmcft of water. But, however much water there is, shouldn't Karnataka ensure that Tamil Nadu gets 56 percent of it in a water year beginning June?

But forget it. India’s agriculture departments don’t even effectively advise tomato farmers how they should avoid a market glut. This year once again, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra saw a huge tomato glut, leading to a price crash.

Did anyone say Karnataka and Tamil Nadu can’t work together to find a solution?

In Chennai, in 2000, I was happy to watch SM Krishna and M Karunanidhi, when they were the chief ministers of the states, sit around a table in one room under one roof, along with their ministers and officers, and work together wonderfully and discuss plans to catch forest thug Veerappan.

But back then, the states had a common enemy to fight. And now too the states have a common problem. If they have turned into enemies of each other, I blame again the troikas.

Let the farmer cry. Why must the lying politicians, kowtowing officials and jingoistic journalists care?

Updated Date: Sep 12, 2016 13:47 PM

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