POLITICS

Why A Bandh Won't Solve Karnataka's Cauvery Water Crisis

On the Cauvery battlefield, there is no room for fence-sitters.

09/09/2016 10:31 AM IST | Updated 09/09/2016 11:02 AM IST
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Karnataka, home to India's Silicon Valley, has logged out for a day. With Cauvery on the boil, Karnataka is in a state of unrest, turmoil and anger. But if it thought declaring a bandh for 12 hours -- for the fifth time in two years over the Cauvery issue -- would make the world sit up and take note, Bengaluru is fooling itself with self-delusional grandeur.

A bandh, however democratic a way of protest it may be, will do nothing -- repeat, nothing -- to alter the view of the Supreme court. The dharma, as the bench observed last week, should be to "live and let live''. The judges also know that most citizens and companies fall in line during a bandh under duress rather than being willing supporters of the cause.

Bengaluru's IT industry has declared a day off though some of its critical workforce has been asked to quietly work from home. A forced shutdown for others is nothing but a license for the bandh industry to demonstrate muscle power and a temporary alibi to express unhappiness with the decision. The state government's tacit support to a shutter-down Karnataka is an attempt to convey that it released water to Tamil Nadu only because as a constitutional body, it could not have defied the court.

READ: Karnataka Starts Releasing Cauvery Water To Tamil Nadu

READ: Siddaramaiah Trying To Ride The Cauvery Issue

READ: Day-Long Karnataka Bandh Expected To Hit Normal Life Today

The fascination for bandhs is not specific to Karnataka. India, it would seem, follows a bandh timetable. Last Friday was Bharat Bandh, Karnataka is bandh this Friday and Andhra Pradesh will follow suit on Saturday over the denial of Special Category Status.

This is not to say that south Karnataka has no reason to feel aggrieved. It is upset at having to share the precious resource when it does not have enough for itself. It is not just the farmers in the Cauvery delta who are in a spot of bother. Bengaluru Water Supply Board has said the Krishna Raja Sagara dam has water reserves only for 80 days and if it does not rain by December, the city will have to make alternate arrangements for quenching its thirst.

It says that despite allocation of Cauvery water under law, the state is made to feel like an intrusive claimant, made to stand with a begging bowl or approach a neutral authority for help every time.

Tamil Nadu looks at it differently. It feels that having the Cauvery source in its territory makes Kannadigas claim ownership status, making it a case of neighbours envy, owner's pride. It says that despite allocation of Cauvery water under law, the state is made to feel like an intrusive claimant, made to stand with a begging bowl or approach a neutral authority for help every time.

But instead of the political leadership in Bengaluru and Chennai speaking to each other to find a mutually acceptable solution, both have outsourced adoption of an anti position to fringe groups and individuals.

Vatal Nagaraj is one such person, having perfected the art of projecting himself as the saviour of Kannadiga interest over the years. He heads 'Kannada Okkoota', the Federation of Karnataka Organisations and is one of those at the forefront of the Friday shutdown.

His critics deride him as a rent-a-cause agitator and a rabblerouser. Nagaraj insists it is his right to agitate to point out what he says is an "unjust decision'' even if bandhs in the past over Cauvery have not achieved anything.

No surprise then that even Kannada film stars under attack for not supporting the Karnataka stand publicly, have resorted to playing to the gallery by taking extreme positions.

The nature of the agitation matrix gives players like Nagaraj legitimacy in the political ecosystem. They do, what professional politicians cannot do openly. The 500-odd organisations supporting the Karnataka bandh, fulfil the purpose of chest beating and emphasising the Kannadiga identity.

No surprise then that even Kannada film stars under attack for not supporting the Karnataka stand publicly, have resorted to playing to the gallery by taking extreme positions. One of them, actor Ragini Dwivedi, posted a video on Twitter with the message : "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.''

On the other side of the Cauvery, Tamil actors are likely to be more circumspect because Karnataka is an important market for Tamil films. But if pushed, as they have been in the past, they will articulate the lower riparian state's viewpoint.

On the Cauvery battlefield, there is no room for fence-sitters.

At the end of the day, bandhs are akin to cutting the nose to spite the face. Just in two days of Mandya bandh, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation alone lost Rs 1.3 crore by way of cancellation of 536 buses and damage to buses in incidents of arson. Virtually the entire Karnataka police force will be out on the road to ensure against any untoward incidents on Friday.

On the Cauvery battlefield, there is no room for fence-sitters.

In Bengaluru alone, more than 14000 police personnel will be deployed, apart from 66 platoons of State Reserve and City Armed Reserve police. The loss to the industry will run into thousands of crores.

By the end of the day, Karnataka will claim the bandh was a success. But the real success will be if Karnataka is able to convince the court of the distress in its patch and request for a change in the quantum of water release to Tamil Nadu.

The Cauvery dispute has dragged on since 1892 with every rainfall deficit year sparking an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. While both states will need to look at land cropping patterns to ensure the area under cultivation of water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane is reduced, Karnataka will need to remember that in a federal set-up, whatever be the circumstances, it cannot treat Cauvery as a closed user group.

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