Cauvery row: How Karnataka bandh turned into an ugly slugfest

That Siddaramaiah had to wait for ugliness to spill on to the streets to press the panic button is unfortunate.

 |  5-minute read |   09-09-2016
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In September 2014, when Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa was convicted by a special court in Bangalore in the disproportionate assets case and sentenced to four years in prison, angry AIADMK cadres blamed Karnataka of taking revenge on Tamil Nadu for taking away its share of Cauvery water.

They repeated the same irrational charge when the Karnataka High Court refused to grant bail a few days later. Of course, when the same court acquitted Jayalalithaa in May 2015, it was Amma all the way. Cauvery did not even find a place in the script.

It is beyond comprehension that when India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, can resolve river water disputes with a few occasional minor irritants, what makes Karnataka and Tamil Nadu go to war over Cauvery year after year.

Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has finally done what he should have done ten days earlier. He finally wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to arrange a meeting between him [Siddaramaiah] and Jayalalithaa. It is still not clear why Bangalore and Chennai cannot speak to each otherwithout the PM's intervention.

That Siddaramaiah had to wait for ugliness to spill on to the streets of several towns and cities on Friday (September 9) to press the panic button is unfortunate.

Jayalalithaa came under fierce attack on the streets of Karnataka today, with protests in bad taste. Death ceremonies were performed, with many accusing Jayalalithaa of having stolen Karnataka's water.

Kannada TV channels broadcast stories showing how water levels in Hogenakkal and Mettur were high, and agriculture in Tamil Nadu was in full swing. The allegation was that Jayalalithaa had lied to ensure south Karnataka farmers were deprived of much-needed water and that the situation in Tamil Nadu's Cauvery delta was much better.

protptibd_090916060402.jpg A scene at a road following a protest by Kannada activists against the Supreme Court’s verdict on Cauvery water issue in Mysuru. (Credit: PTI)

At the same time, former Congress MP from Mandya, actor-turned-politician Ramya tweeted pictures of a lush green Cauvery delta region in south Karnataka, after water was released in the canals. Which begs the question: If water is indeed available, even though not in the most desirable quantity, what crisis are we talking about?

But when passions are inflamed by vested interests, logic takes a backseat. Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw realised this when she got embroiled in a Twitter war after sarcastically suggesting renaming Bengaluru as "Bandhaluru". Perhaps this was the wrong day to try wry wit as a tool. It backfired and Shaw became the victim of name-calling.

Vatal Nagaraj, who heads Kannada Okkoota, one of the many organisations that called for a Karnataka shutdown on September 9, told a TV channel "Avarige tale sari illa" which translates loosely to "she is out of her mind".

Nagaraj made it clear that irrespective of where they hailed from, people who live in Karnataka "must support the Karnataka cause". Others can pack their bags and leave, he said in a not-so-veiled threat. Nagaraj could well have been referring to the 35 lakh Tamil-speaking population in Bangalore, whose representatives have already petitioned the Karnataka home minister, seeking safety.

Nagaraj was too busy to notice that Delhi-based journalist Madhavan Narayanan had called Bangalore as "BandhGalore" on social media with US-based scribe Chidanand Rajghatta joining in to call it "BungleLore". I guess so long as they are not drinking Cauvery water, they do not figure on Nagaraj's radar.

But hardline positions tear hard-earned reputations to pieces.

Reputed legal brain Fali Nariman, who has been Karnataka's counsel in the Cauvery case for 32 years, has come under attack for suggesting that the state could give 10,000cusecs for five days. That, critics argue, was a wrong legal ploy as it gave an opening to the court to ask Karnataka to release 15,000cusecs for ten days.

Further, the fact that Nariman argued for Jayalalithaa to secure bail in the disproportionate assets case in the Supreme Court in 2014, is being cited to insinuate that his allegiance to the Karnataka cause is suspect.

Even those tweeting with the hashtag #KarnatakaBandh were asked to use #NammaKaveri instead to stress on the ownership of the river, known as Dakshin Ganga.

But on a day when Tamil Nadu came under fierce attack, there were other pictures that caught attention.

Abhishek Tandon tweeted photographs of foreign tourists visiting the foaming Bellandur lake and clicking pictures. The two images could not have conveyed the irony better. On one hand, protesters blaming Tamil Nadu for taking away Karnataka's water, and on the other hand, the tell-tale images of Karnataka's dead lakes.

Like many other cities in India, including Chennai, Bangalore has systematically killed its water bodies, encroaching upon them and polluting them. The likes of Nagaraj won't organise a protest to save the city's lakes because the villains are the ruling class, and the bandh industry cannot take them on.

It is all very well to agitate for one's rights but perhaps it it also time to walk the talk, put our own house in order before proceeding to burn down the neighbour's.

Writer

TS Sudhir TS Sudhir @iamtssudhir

The writer is a journalist.

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