02/10/2016 7:45 AM IST | Updated 02/10/2016 11:39 AM IST

How The Cauvery Issue Forged The Unlikely Deve Gowda-Siddaramaiah Partnership In Karnataka

Fast bowlers hunt in pairs.


The Cauvery delta has thrown up the latest fast and the furious combo from Karnataka--HD Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah. Deve Gowda's fast at the Vidhana Soudha complex in Bengaluru on Saturday was in step with Siddaramaiah's furiousness at the manner in which Karnataka is being scolded like a petty offender by the Supreme court.

Till a month ago, no one would have thought that these two bitter political rivals would forge a partnership. Gowda till 2005 was Siddaramaiah's political boss and ever since the parting of ways a decade ago, the two leaders from the south Karnataka belt have not seen eye to eye. But the duo saw in the river water dispute an opportunity to make political capital, if they dug in their heels on a minefield of a Cauvery pitch.

Ever since the Supreme court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water daily on 5 September, Siddaramaiah has found himself on the backfoot. The Karnataka bandh on 9 September saw the chief minister being made a target of the pro-Kannada groups as they accused him of not protecting Karnataka's interests. It did not matter to them that Jagdish Shettar of the BJP, when he was chief minister, had also released water to Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka was baffled by the Cauvery Supervisory committee's decision to ask it to release 3,000 cusecs more everyday, even after the first lot of water release was over. This was despite Karnataka pointing out that it has only water sufficient for its own drinking water needs. But when the Supreme court bowled a beamer doubling the release to 6,000 cusecs, Deve Gowda stepped in to ask 'Howzatt?' Siddaramaiah could not be more thankful for this heavy-duty political support.

Rewind to 2005 when Siddaramaiah, a trusted lieutenant of Gowda, was asked to quit as deputy chief minister. Junior Gowda, HD Kumaraswamy's movement up the JD(S) ladder meant Siddaramaiah looked for greener pastures in the Congress. That broke relations between Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah completely, with the two looking to undercut each other at every available opportunity.

The thaw happened because of a tragedy in Siddaramaiah's life. The CM lost his 39-year-old son, Rakesh, to multi-organ failure in July. People in the know say that when Gowda met the grieving father to offer his condolences, the old relationship was revived to an extent.

Since then Siddaramaiah and his irrigation minister MB Patil have been in constant touch with each other. Siddaramaiah even visited Gowda's residence in Bengaluru, apparently after a decade. On the CM's insistence, Gowda stepped into the Vidhana Soudha after a gap of 20 years, to attend the all-party meeting.

This combo pack comes with several add-ons for Siddaramaiah and Gowda. Getting a former PM to back him lends strength to Siddaramaiah's ability to stand up the top court of the land. It also sends a message to the Congress High command that should they try to mess with him over handling of the Cauvery issue, he can checkmate them with new-found friends.

The BJP has been reduced to playing the chorus. Not a happy situation for the party that is looking to make a comeback in the 2018 assembly elections. It knows that Siddaramaiah and Gowda are playing to the gallery of Kannadiga First and taking on the SC will only add to their political capital. While sitting on his fast, Gowda shrewdly appealed to the Prime minister to resolve the issue and broke his fast late on Saturday after an assurance that Narendra Modi will do something about it next week. Now if the PM achieves a breakthrough, Gowda gets part of the credit, if he does not, Gowda gets to pressurise the BJP.

India Today Group/Getty Images
File photo of HD Deve Gowda, former Prime Minister of India and President of Janata Dal (S).

While the Cauvery partnership is to ensure drinking water for Bengaluru, it has also guaranteed continuation in power in the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation. The bonhomie helped seal the continuation of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the civic body, where the two came together to keep out the largest party, the BJP out of the power equation last year. The BJP was making overtures to the JD(S) but the party that has acquired the reputation of being a political freelancer has decided to work with the Congress for now. The Gowda-Siddaramaiah friendship could also translate into an understanding in 2018.

Siddaramaiah and several BJP leaders made a beeline to the place where Gowda sat, to be part of the photo-ops. This entire episode and the latest act of going without food for the sake of water, has helped the 83-year-old leader redefine his stature in Karnataka's political class.

HD Deve Gowda is now High Definition Deve Gowda.

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