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September 23, 1999
Opposition targets DMK government on Cauvery dispute
N Sathiya Moorthy in Chennai
The Cauvery water dispute is likely to land the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu in a soup. The opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam is out to prove that the DMK government was slow to react when Karnataka began impounding the water on first indications of a failed monsoon.
Party sources point out that the government had failed to raise a stink when Karnataka began holding back Tamil Nadu's share of the water. Informed sources outside the political realm agree: "Had Tamil Nadu Government been as alert as its Karnataka counterpart the situation in the Cauvery delta would not have come to such a pass. Even Karnataka would not have felt the cumulative pinch of the overdue supply had Tamil Nadu insisted on immediate release."
AIADMK alleges that it was DMK leader, K Karunananidhi's, overpowering desire to please Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that led him to take such a passive position.
Senior party leaders point out that even earlier Karunanidhi's eagerness to replace AIADMK in the BJP-led coalition saw him accepting a Cauvery River Water Authority which had no statutory powers despite initial recommendations by I K Gujral government to bestow such powers on the authority.
''The result is there for everybody to see. Prime Minister's intervention in the current dispute has failed to solve the tangle,'' said a senior AIADMK leader requesting anonymity.
He recalled that even the P V Narasimha Rao government at the Centre could not enforce the interim award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, when the Bangarappa Government in Karnataka refused to release water. ''That was why we were insistent on a mandated authority with clear-curt powers for implementing its orders,'' he said.
According to another AIADMK leader, who was a minister in the Jayalalitha government, the Karunanidhi government had kept silent all the while only because of the approaching elections.
"The BJP at the Centre, the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and the J H Patel-led Janata Dal in Karnataka, had all sold the accord to their constituents as if it were the event of the millenium. With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, they could not afford to let this dream lapse,'' he said.
The DMK, however, denies all these charges. "There is no truth in the allegations," said a senior leader. "The fact remains that any implementation of the interim award of the tribunal has to be done in good faith, in the absence of any enforcing mechanism."
He does not support the demand for bestowing statutory powers on the Cauvery River Water Authority. "It would be like creating a paper tiger. If the Karnataka government, for reasons legitimate and not-so-legitimate, refuses to obey the orders, as it has done now, what will you do."
The DMK leader said he was saddened by the fact that the Karnataka government was ''seeking to politicise the issue, possibly to a point of no-return, all over again.''
He also denied the AIADMK charge that the Karunanidhi Government had failed to protect the interests of the Tamil Nadu farmers, and had put politics and electoral alliances before the state's priorities.
"Administratively, we were giving Karnataka a fairly long rope, before making a public issue of it. Secondly, we cannot be as irresponsible and as dramatic as Jayalalitha, who went on a fast when she was the chief minister. ''One must not forget that it was Jaya's provocative statements that led to 'anti-Tamil violence in Karnataka."
Non-partisan sources point out that after the pronouncement of the interim award, the tribunal has done precious little. Nor has the State Government pressed its case hard enough. ''Now that an opportunity has presented itself, the State Government should approach the tribunal seeking appropriate directions on the method of implementation of its award, on an early date."
How does the current situation reflect on the TMC leader G K Moopanar's suggestion for a percentage-based division of the Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu? "Though not new, it's politically a 'bold decision' for a Tamil Nadu leader, to come out with a practical solution," said a source.
"Thus far this suggestion has been confined to academicians and technical experts on both sides."
The political risk in this kind of arrangement flows from the possibility of Tamil Nadu getting less than 205 tmcft of water in a year of scarce rainfall.
"But that's the only real solution that can be envisaged. And maybe, that should come from the tribunal, as part of its final award, if it has to absolve political parties and political masters in the two States of any charge of a sell-out."
Apart from all this, the current Cauvery row may have its own problems for the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA), particularly if it is voted back to power in the current Lok Sabha elections. "For one, the new Government, even if it were only a continuation of the current Vajpayee government, would have a messy problem on hand.
Also, the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the United Janata Dal in Karnataka may use the dispute to drive a hard bargain with the BJP leadership before confirming their support to the party.
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