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September 27, 1999
Patel cites health, poll to skip CRA meeting
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
Citing doctor's advice and some elections that were postponed to October 3, Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel today refused to attend the crucial meeting of four chief ministers called on September 29 by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to settle the Cauvery waters dispute.
Patel's decision, after a Cabinet meeting in Bangalore, is seen in New Delhi as revenge on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was initially reluctant to admit him into the National Democratic Alliance and now wants to foist its own man as chief minister if the coalition returns to power in Karnataka.
Sources said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi too may cancel his visit to Delhi tomorrow in view of Patel's decision. Kerala Chief Minister E K Nayanar is slated to arrive tomorrow, while Pondicherry's Janakiraman is already in the capital.
According to political sources, Patel told the prime minister's office that he could come to Delhi only after October 10, by which time a large part of the standing crop in the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu would have perished. And political doom could overtake the NDA's victory ride.
Patel was discharged from a Bangalore clinic only yesterday after undergoing treatment for jaundice, and that has come in handy for the flamboyant chief minister to skip the meet.
But observers believe Patel and his supporters are yet to forget the humiliating entry they were given into the NDA. State BJP politicians openly proclaimed that Patel's entry would sink the entire front, and it was only after the BJP national leadership intervened that Patel and his colleagues were admitted.
As if to rub salt on the wound, the BJP yesterday declared that if the NDA wins, its state unit chief B S Yediyurappa will be the next chief minister.
In fact, there is some talk in political circles of Patel and his supporters in the Janata Dal (United) having masterminded the Cauvery crisis to teach the BJP a lesson.
Patel's refusal to attend the Delhi meeting will have a serious impact on the alliance. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil Nadu's ruling party and an important ally of the BJP, will be forced to take strong political decisions as the AIADMK's J Jayalalitha is breathing down its neck. And if the DMK takes the drastic step of pulling out of the NDA, Vajpayee will have to remain satisfied with the role of leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Vajpayee had cancelled several election rallies to be in New Delhi to attend the crucial meeting on Wednesday. Clearly, the alarm bells were ringing. But with Patel playing truant, political circles fear the worst.
The monitoring committee of the Cauvery River Authority had on Friday recommended that Karnataka release three thousand million cubic feet of water to Tamil Nadu before September 30 and another 6 tmc-ft by October to save the standing crop. The committee also recommended that Karnataka make good a deficit of 20 tmc-ft in addition to the mandatory releases by December. But Karnataka rejected this time table.
Tamil Nadu has been demanding that Karnataka release 10 tmc-ft by the end of this month, including the deficit of 3 tmc-ft and the mandatory 7 tmc-ft. In October, it has demanded 36 tmc-ft, including the deficit of 6 tmc-ft and the mandatory 30 tmc-ft.
But the Karnataka authorities refused to agree to the immediate release of water, and remained steadfast despite a five-hour-long meeting in New Delhi.
Besides differing on the amount of water to be released, both sides differ on where the water should be released: Karnataka says it will release water from Biligundulu, while Tamil Nadu says water should come into the Mettur reservoir.
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