Deadlock over Cauvery: TN parties united at regional level, divided at the Centre

The BJP-led Centre cannot take any decision on the Cauvery Management Board, despite the apex court’s direction, till the Karnataka polls are over.
Deadlock over Cauvery: TN parties united at regional level, divided at the Centre
Deadlock over Cauvery: TN parties united at regional level, divided at the Centre
Written by:

Prof K Nageshwar

Close on the heels of the Andhra Pradesh special category status issue resulting in the TDP’s estrangement with the BJP, it is the Cauvery issue now that is putting pressure on the relations between regional and national political players.

In an obvious bid to frustrate the undeclared bonhomie between the AIADMK and the BJP, the DMK demanded that the ruling party in Tamil Nadu support the TDP sponsored no-confidence motion. In fact, Stalin asked the AIADMK to bring a no-trust motion on the Cauvery issue.

In a clever response, the AIADMK said that it would move the no-confidence motion on the Modi government if the DMK obtains the support of its ally Congress and that such a motion would be confined only to the Cauvery issue. Senior AIADMK leader M Thambidurai on Sunday said his party would consider moving a no-trust motion in Parliament against the NDA government if the Congress supported it.

“Let Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi issue a statement (indicating support), they (DMK) are in alliance with them (Congress)... only if they (Congress) support, we will get the (requisite) numbers,” the leader, who is also the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker, said, according to PTI.

The AIADMK makes this demand knowing fully well that it is difficult for the Congress to take such a stand on the issue at a time when neighbouring Karnataka goes to polls. The Congress-ruled state is going to the polls in May. The party has high stakes in this south Indian state, as the results would have a significant bearing on the political situation in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

The Cauvery issue is an equally emotive topic in Karnataka too. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, raised the spectre of the Mahadayi river dispute in a bid to embarrass the BJP, which is in power in Goa, where the river is considered a lifeline.

Meanwhile, as the issue snowballs into a major political question in Tamil Nadu, the proximity between the AIADMK and the BJP will be under question; and the relationship between the DMK and the Congress may also come under strain if the issue escalates. Even if the AIADMK and the DMK retreat to avoid embarrassing their national allies, the entry of new regional players in the form of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, who do not have the political baggage of national allies, will not allow the Dravidian parties to vacillate.

This is precisely what happened in Andhra Pradesh. At one point of time, the TDP had disowned the special category status issue and accepted the Centre’s proposal to accord the special package instead. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu even went to the extent of saying that the special status was not a panacea. You may call it by any name, but we need funds, he said. But with YS Jagan Mohan Reddy making it an election issue, Naidu was left with no choice except to harden his stand on the issue, which finally led to the TDP’s exit from the NDA.

Thus, the competitive politics of “sentiment” pursued by rival regional players not only keep emotive issues alive but also have the potential to impact the relationship between regional and national parties.

In fact, such sentimental issues acquire a sort of autonomy making it difficult for even its sponsors to wriggle out. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which was part of the Congress-led UPA at both the state and the Centre, had to exit the UPA as the Telangana sentiment strengthened.

The BJP-led Central government cannot take any decision on the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board, despite the apex court’s direction, till the Karnataka polls are over. The Congress too cannot demand it as it also has similar political stakes in the state. Siddaramaiah, who has become more or less a regional satrap in a national party, is ready to use it as an emotive poll issue if the Central government does anything on the Tamil Nadu demand.

Thus, the BJP is targeting two birds with one shot. By encouraging its proxy, the AIADMK, to raise the issue in Parliament, it is postponing the decision on Cauvery and avoiding the no-confidence motion. The party, despite having a clear majority, is wary of facing the no-trust motion in Lok Sabha as emotive issues like the Cauvery row will inevitably come to the fore, adversely affecting its political fortunes in the poll-bound state.

Thus, as the national parties try hard to avoid such emotive regional issues, the state parties, irrespective of whether they have alliances with national parties, are bringing them to the fore strongly. The national parties which have political stakes in both the disputed states are in a dilemma. At the same time, they cannot be blind to regional aspirations as they need strong players in the states to make a national coalition.

(The writer is a former Telangana MLC, former editor of The Hans India and Professor, Journalism, Osmania University)

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