Our interests lost amid politics, courts and bandhs: A young Kannadiga’s anger over Cauvery

Toothless Karnataka politicians and trivialised activism have cost the state dearly in its water struggles.
Our interests lost amid politics, courts and bandhs: A young Kannadiga’s anger over Cauvery
Our interests lost amid politics, courts and bandhs: A young Kannadiga’s anger over Cauvery
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By Rakshith Ponnathpur

The Karnataka bandh on Friday over Cauvery river-water sharing is going to be the fifth such bandh related to the water dispute to be held in Karnataka since 2014. The bandh is mostly going to be a total bandh, given what the river means to the people of Karnataka.

While successful statewide bandhs re-iterate that Karnataka stands united, against what some fringe elements in the state's northern half would want to believe, it helps little in bringing any short or long term results in itself.

These are not Karnataka's internal disputes which can be solved in Vidhana Soudha. The Kalasa Banduri dispute involves Maharashtra and Goa, while Mekedatu and Kaveri disputes involve Tamil Nadu. Given this, even a dozen bandhs in Karnataka will not convince Laxmikant Parsekar, Devendra Fadnavis or Jayalalithaa to sit across the table with Siddaramaiah and arrive at amicable political settlements, the way water disputes can and should be solved.

All the parties involved should engage in a pragmatic dialogue to find a satisfactory closure. However, for this, they must rise above water politics, display maturity and compromise at least a little for such talks to bear fruit.

The Kaveri dispute is more than a century old and predates Independence. The pre-Independence agreements heavily favored Madras Presidency (under direct rule of the British) allowing it to irrigate large areas and even dictate how much the Mysore Princely State could irrigate. While the tribunals formed post-Independence have taken into account parameters like irrigated area, where Tamil Nadu has outperformed Karnataka, they have refused to consider the very historical reasons why Tamil Nadu was able to do so. This is Karnataka's main grievance, which it has unfortunately failed to convince the concerned about, both politically and legally.

Delhi's alliance politics has further helped Tamil Nadu with one of its Dravidian parties always holding power to make or break Governments, while Karnataka has remained an insignificant player distributing its share between two national parties. Tamil Nadu understands that involving central authority translates into an advantage for itself, and therefore participates in every dialogue with a maximalist mindset. While it remains a steadfast proponent of federalism on every other issue, it is unfortunate for Karnataka that it aggressively pushes for central intervention here.

Karnataka's elected representatives, already outnumbered by Tamil Nadu in Delhi, have to display solidarity to make a convincing case, but they have showed no such tendencies whatsoever. Their behavior in Lok Sabha a day after the interim verdict on Kalasa Banduri dispute had gone against Karnataka clearly showed they have no intention of treating even such a serious issue, as non-partisan. They indulged in ugly political mudslinging with some of them even storming the well of the house and creating a ruckus, even as popular sentiment in Karnataka expected them to rise above politics and stand together.

The three political parties of Karnataka have all either terribly failed to read the overwhelming public sentiment against them, or are being complacent that caste arithmetic and the lack of alternatives will take them across the finishing line. It is a tragedy that the state doesn't yet have a genuine state-centric party, even if only to show both the Congress and the BJP how badly they have failed to preserve the state's interests and to show the JDS what it could have been if it had not restricted itself to representing a couple of communities within one region of Karnataka.

Meanwhile, the state-centric activism which should have dictated political narratives and compensated for the lack of state-centric polity, has been taken hostage by a few part-time activists like Vatal Nagaraj, whose USP lies in innovative theatrics. This group has no understanding of any of the state's problems, no roadmaps to tackle them and even expecting them to have a holistic vision for Karnataka would be asking too much.

They are proactive, though, in calling for bandhs after every verdict, being the centers of attraction during bandhs and disappearing into oblivion only to show up for a repeat performance when the next verdict comes.

The media, which covers activism only during bandhs when it serves their viewership ratings well, gives generous coverage to this fringe while conveniently neglecting backbone organisations working perennially to bring some maturity and seriousness into the activism space, which Vatal Nagaraj & Co. have systematically trivialised.

The people of Karnataka have suffered the most because of all this – Cauvery or Kalasa Banduri. The toothless Karnataka polity and trivializing of activism have cost them dearly. While some organizations are fixing the latter, Karnataka is in dire need of a cure for the former. Unless this vicious cycle's chain is broken, even a thousand bandhs won't help them.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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