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July 20, 1998


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Cauvery water dispute may inspire Congress interest in forming govt

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

The Cauvery waters dispute could well ring the death knell for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition if the Congress agrees to form an alternative government aligning with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Though Congress sources indicate that party president Sonia Gandhi's wait and watch attitude has given way to an inclination to seize the opportunity, the inclusion of Jayalalitha in the Congress scheme of things is still causing problems.

BJP leaders maintain that the Cauvery issue is yet another of Jayalalitha's bogeys and that the tone of her latest threat does not mean much. The government is expected to seek breathing space from the Supreme Court on Tuesday to formulate a national water policy which it had promised in its national agenda for governance.

'We will adopt a national water policy which provides for effective and prompt settlement of disputes and their time bound implementation,' the agenda says.

But the Cauvery is an emotive issue on which -- if the AIADMK pulls down the government -- Jayalalitha could reap a rich political harvest. Knowing this fully well, the BJP still believes the Congress will not invite a similar fate by leading an alternate government with Jayalalitha's participation.

"Nothing will happen, the government will pull on," BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu told Rediff On The NeT. Despite this confidence, that the government has taken the AIADMK leader's threat seriously is borne out by Naidu's assurance that the Cauvery issue will be addressed when the matter comes up before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Though the BJP is not ready to reveal what package it will offer its belligerent Tamil ally, coalition partners indicate that instead of a concrete proposal the government may buy time by promising yet another meeting of the chief ministers of the four southern states to evolve a compromise.

In fact, that is exactly what Karnataka is seeking. The BJP has 13 MPs -- while its ally, the Lok Shakti, has 3 MPs -- from Karnataka and would not like to antagonise voters on an issue which is as emotive for the Kannadiga as it is for the Tamil. The BJP has carefully nursing Karnataka, a state in which the party has grown phenomenally in the last five years.

A 30 member delegation from Karnataka led by former Union human resources development minister S R Bommai met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday and submitted a memorandum which says: "Till the final award is passed the implementation of the interim award is to be left to the basin states to sort out by mutual dialogue and if necessary by seeking the guidance of the Tribunal."

A BJP leader hailing from Karnataka revealed that the issue cannot be resolved keeping both parties happy and hence no solution need be expected from the government.

But Jayalalitha has threatened of disastrous consequences if the interim award is not implemented. Her ally, Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy, interprets the threat as an ultimatum for the Vajpayee government which has sought two adjournments from the Supreme Court.

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal had in its interim order on June 25, 1991 proposed a Cauvery River Authority and directed Karnataka to release 205 tmc of water from June to May every year.

"The issue has been hanging fire for long. The government has to implement the interim order. She has not threatened anyone, but just expressed the anguish of the farmers of Tamil Nadu. It means she could consider all options including the withdrawal of support to the BJP government," Dr Swamy told Rediff On The NeT.

All efforts are on, Dr Swamy said, to convince Sonia Gandhi to form an alternative government and that the Cauvery issue may well be the last nail in the BJP coffin.

Meanwhile, the BJP's West Bengal ally Mamta Bannerjee's decision to back Congress candidate P M Sayeed for the deputy speaker's post means a defeat in the election would be a huge loss of face for the ruling party. The BJP had gifted the Speaker's post to the Telugu Desam Party in return for its support during the vote of confidence on March 28.

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