Cauvery issue: Violence in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu inspired by chauvinism, myopic politics, media

Is it possible for Tamil Nadu to declare war on Karnataka?

An armed confrontation between two Indian states, that too over water, may be unimaginable for many. But, on Quora, you would actually find people discussing the prospects of a war between the two rival states.

Laughable it may sound, but it is a pointer to the venomous rivalry that exists between the two border states. The ongoing violence in Bengaluru over the Cauvery water dispute is just a reflection of the strained relations between the two states.

Chauvinists on either side of the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border are always on a short fuse. Such is the nature of the Kannadiga-Tamil rivalry that violence can erupt even after a minor spark, sometimes even without it.

Protests in Mandya district on Monday. PTI

Protests in Mandya district on Monday. PTI

In 2000, when Kannadiga superstar Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan, violence broke out in Karnataka simply because the brigand happened to be a Tamil. For almost 75 days, while the actor remained in Veerappan's custody, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu remained on the edge, with sporadic violence threatening peace in both states.

Considering the volatile nature of relations between the two states, the emotive issue of sharing of Cauvery waters was expected to trigger violence in the two states. Kannadigas are averse to sharing water from the Cauvery basin with their neighbouring states. So, the Supreme Court order directing the Siddaramaiah government to release 15,000 cusecs water (later revised to 12,000 cusecs) to Tamil Nadu was meant to create ripples in the two states.

The dispute over sharing of Cauvery water dates back to the 19th century. Several governments, court orders and arbitration panels have failed to resolve the row, primarily because the Kannadigas do not believe in the lower riparian rights of downstream states, especially during the low-monsoon years.

As this article in The Wire argues, Karnataka has historical reasons to be upset about the quantum of water to be shared with neighbouring states. Girish Nikam writes that the Cholas built reservoirs and check dams in Tamil Nadu in the 10th century, while the rulers of Mysore built Krishna Raja Sagara, the first major reservoir, in 1934.

Karnataka's politics, where no party can afford to be seen compromising the riparian rights of Kannadigas, further contributed to the problem. At an all-party meeting in Karnataka to discuss the SC order on water sharing, even the BJP leaders argued that the order not be implemented. On cue, CM Siddaramaiah dispatched a missive to the Prime Minister, seeking the Centre's intervention and arguing that Tamil Nadu has enough water this season to address its needs.

To this dangerous mix, the media and Twitterati have added more poison by spreading rumours, videos and inflammatory messages. Television channels in both the states, reports say, are playing up incidents of attacks on Kannadigas and Tamils, leading to retaliatory violence.

According to The Indian Express, the fire was reignited on Monday by TV channels playing the regional card. Some television channels, on Monday, showed images of the Kannadiga-owned New Woodlands Hotel in Chennai being attacked with petrol bombs. The reports suggested that it was in retaliation to the attacks on Tamils. Images of a Kannadiga being beaten up by Tamil activists and buses being vandalised were also shown, the report added.

"We will also show them,” a statement made by Vatal Nagaraj, a veteran leader who exhorts Kannada chauvinism, only indicates "retaliatory incidents in Karnataka," The Indian Express reported.

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are on the brink of another cycle of violence inspired by chauvinism, myopic politics and an irresponsible media, both conventional and social. Only by restraining all of them would this war between the two rivals would come to an end.

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Updated Date: Sep 13, 2016 15:17 PM

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