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Cauvery verdict: In politically charged Tamil Nadu, SC order a setback for farmers, EPS and AIADMK as well

There was pin drop silence at Tamil Nadu chief minister E Palaniswamy's residence in Chennai, minutes after the Supreme Court verdict on the Cauvery river dispute case was read out on Friday. With the Supreme court reducing Tamil Nadu's share of Cauvery water, given by Cauvery River Tribunal in 2007, from 192 TMC to 177.25 TMC, the lower riparian state has every reason to feel aggrieved.

One of the counsels for Tamil Nadu and Rajya Sabha AIADMK MP Navneethakrishnan summed up the mood succinctly when he said, "Yes this is a setback".

Contrast that with a triumphant looking Siddaramaiah walking into the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of the state legislature of Karnataka, surrounded by gushing Congress leaders. With reports of sweets being distributed coming in from different parts of south Karnataka, the Karnataka chief minister conveyed the body language of a man who had made the legal victory possible in the Supreme Court. The icing on the cake was the extra 4.75 TMC of water allotted to Bengaluru for its drinking water needs.

File image of Chief Minister E Palaniswamy. PTI

File image of Chief Minister E Palaniswamy. PTI

In Mandya, one of the two districts in the Cauvery delta in Karnataka, State Sugarcane Farmers' Association leader Kurubur Shanthakumaran described the order as a "fair decision".

The only silver lining for Tamil Nadu in this judicial order is the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board. For many years now, Tamil Nadu has demanded the creation of a board to ensure it did not have to depend on Karnataka's benevolence for getting water into the Mettur dam in Salem district.

But in the face of opposition from Karnataka that feared that the board will force it to release water even in a drought year, it was never constituted by the Centre. A board is now supposed to ensure that an independent authority will oversee the release of water from Karnataka into Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.

The verdict has come at a politically sensitive time in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. While Karnataka goes to polls in a couple of months, Palaniswamy completed a year as chief minister this week. The verdict will strengthen Siddaramaiah's position as the champion of Kannadiga interests, a tag Congress will certainly exploit to the hilt. But it's Palaniswamy who is certain to come in for severe criticism.

While the figleaf of going in for appeal in the apex court will help him buy some time, his immediate worry will be how actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan will exploit it when he hits the ground with his padyatra on 21 February. Haasan will launch his political party in Ramanathapuram and then travel through Rameshwaram, Madurai, and Sivaganga. He has already made his intentions clear that he will focus on farmers' issues and adopt a village in each district. If Haasan focuses on AIADMK's inability to fight effectively for the Tamil cause and protect Tamil Nadu's interests, he is bound to get traction.

Add to that the aggressive posturing by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other opposition parties who have all along accused Palaniswamy of running a government on autopilot. Barring writing a letter to Siddaramaiah requesting a meeting to discuss the release of Cauvery water last month, Palaniswamy has done precious little to champion Tamil Nadu's cause. Even in terms of perception, the feeling on the ground is that while Siddaramaiah adopted an aggressive position all along on the Cauvery water issue, Tamil Nadu did not lobby enough.

How is Tamil Nadu likely to react now? With the mass protest at the Marina beach in January 2016 demanding Jallikattu, the bull-taming sport, farmers in the state have shown that they have the might to take on the governments in both Chennai and New Delhi. Will Tamil Nadu see a re-run of rural anger and anguish?

The only other person apart from Palaniswamy who will find himself in a tight spot will be Rajinikanth, another actor who has made his foray into politics. The Bengaluru-born actor, who made his career in Tamil Nadu, will now be under pressure to take a stand decisively in the favour of the latter. One wrong word and it could jeopardise the prospects for the release of his two films this summer in the lucrative Bengaluru market. In the past, he has done a fine balancing act, taking part in anti-Karnataka protests in Chennai and then reaching out separately to Karnataka to ensure a peaceful release of his films.

On the ground, the Tamil Nadu farmer wonders if Karnataka will heed the directions given by the Cauvery Management Board or will the state have to knock at the Supreme Court's door every time. The Tamil Nadu farmer is unhappy, enveloped by a sense of betrayal.

Over one hundred farmers had protested in New Delhi last year, demeaning themselves by being in a state of undress, only to be given the cold shoulder by the powers-that-be. As the farmer looks with sorrow at his withering crop in the Cauvery delta, it is this sense of victimhood that should worry Palaniswamy.


Updated Date: Feb 16, 2018 13:35 PM

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