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DMK wrests Cauvery initiative

April 11, 2018 10:18 IST

Today, with the ‘Cauvery row’ in full flow, the DMK has managed to wrest the ‘pan-Tamil initiative’ for the Dravidian polity as a whole.

What more, the DMK has also stolen much of the ‘Tamil thunder’ that had belonged to peripheral pan-Tamil groups over the Jallikattu protests in January 2017, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

DMK working president M K Stalin being detained by the police personnel during a road roko organised by the opposition in Chennai on April 5, 2018, to protest the non-implement of the Cauvery verdict by the central government. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo.

The Supreme Court’s public admonition of the Centre on delaying a ‘scheme’ on the Cauvery water dispute may have quenched a few parched throats in Tamil Nadu, but it is unlikely to end the ongoing agitation across the state.

This owes to an increasingly strengthened public perception that the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre has deliberately delayed the process after the first bench under Chief Justice Dipak Misra had passed the ‘final verdict’ as far back as February 16, 2016, giving a clear-headed six-week deadline for the Centre to submit the ‘scheme’, for managing water-sharing, as per the recommendations of the Cauvery Waters Tribunal.


“We are not surprised that the Centre has not taken any steps,” CJI Misra observed, when Tamil Nadu’s contempt plea against the Centre, and also the latter’s plea for three more months’ time, came up for hearing on Monday. “The Centre must place a raft scheme before us by May 3 so that a final stamp is put on it, to end the controversy.”

The bench turned down Attorney General K K Venugopal’s plea for time beyond May 12 citing Karnataka assembly polls, scheduled for the day.  This precisely has been the contention of the protesting political parties and peripheral groups in Tamil Nadu, which had been claiming that the Centre had delayed the process at every turn, and was finding new reasons and methods to do so, only to buy peace for the BJP in the Karnataka polls.

CJI Misra also ticked off AG Venugopal, when the latter referred to the Centre’s pending petition, seeking a clarification -- obviously, if the Union Government could form a ‘scheme’ not otherwise mentioned in the tribunal award: “Why do you talk about the tribunal’s order now? ...Why didn’t you come to us if you had any confusion?”

The CJI declared that “we would put our stamp of approval” to “a comprehensive scheme” and that the Centre “must frame it”. The court would not discuss the ‘structure of a board’, when AG Venugopal referred to the Centre’s clarification petition mentioning the same. “We don’t know. You implement our decree,” CJI Misra tersely told him.

Be it as it may, the court’s observations of Monday do not constitute a written order, which alone can be effective, when pronounced. Granting that the Centre does come up with its version of the ‘scheme’, without delaying tactics,  on May 3, common sense dictates that the bench itself may require time to study the same.

It is also not unlikely that counsel for the four state governments, including Kerala and Puducherry, too may want to give their views on the Centre’s proposals. For this again, they would need a copy of the scheme, and ‘instructions’ from their respective clients.

The Karnataka counsel especially would seek such time. He may also cite the pending elections and the ‘lame-duck’ nature of the government in the state, for him to obtain such ‘instructions’, from a post-poll government, whichever party of leader may come to power.

In the interim, however, the Karnataka counsel could be expected to ‘defend’ the current state position, even if at variance from the Centre’s proposal.  Independent of the current position taken by party counterparts in Tamil Nadu, the Congress rulers in Karnataka can be expected go hammer and tongs, both in the Supreme Court and on the electoral arena, at whatever scheme outlined by the Centre.

The greater problem, however, will be for the BJP leadership at the Centre. As may be recalled, the SC’s ‘final order’ of February 16 has very clearly quantified the water-share for individual states, and has given the Centre only a certain leeway, if any, in the formulation of the scheme.

Now after the first bench ticking off no less a person than AG Venugopal, a veteran jurist, it is unlikely that anyone representing the Centre in the SC on May 3, may want to invite the court’s wrath, if further time is sought, citing whatever reason.

Given that the Centre thus may not be able to escape the compulsion of presenting a scheme on May 3, whatever it says could end up being at variance with the BJP’s electoral concerns/interests in Karnataka, what with the assembly polls less than 10 days away.

Yet, the greater drama on the ‘Cauvery politics’ is unfolding not necessarily in Karnataka, but in Tamil Nadu. Leave aside the possibility of the state BJP possibly celebrating any Central ‘scheme’ filed before the SC on May 3, and say that they had called the ‘Dravidian’ bluff all over again, the fact remains that the party and its Hindutva periphery may have already lost the pan-Tamil political battle that it had joined in between.

Today, the DMK, along with multiple electoral allies, has taken over the ‘Cauvery campaign’, from the peripheral groups, which had possibly hoped to make merry with it.

If it is giving a run for the money to the ruling party in the state, it has also meant that as in the past decades, the ‘Big Two’ in Tamil Nadu politics have claimed their due place in state politics, where they were perceived as faltering over recent months and years.

If nothing else, a perception had gained ground -- and not without reason -- that the BJP ruling the Centre was trying to ‘hijack’ TN politics by allegedly arm-twisting factions, groups and individual leaders in the ruling AIADMK after the death of charismatic chief minister Jayalalithaa.

The near-simultaneous withdrawal of her rival Karunanidhi from the mainstream, following age-related ailments, was seen as propitious for the entry of the ‘national party’ with ‘nationalist’ credentials’, over and above the continuing ‘pan-Tamil’ credentials of the Dravidian majors and peripheral groups.

At the height of the recent ‘Aandal Nachchiyar’ controversy’, it was being argued that sections in the Sangh Parivar in the state were keen on creating a new, language-based faith-centric political-divide with possible  electoral gains for the BJP.

It was said/believed that Sri Aandal being a Vaishnavite Tamil saint-poet, and nearly 40 percent of Tamil Nadu’s population purportedly having Vaishnaviite beliefs -- including sections of Saiviites who have no problem worshipping at Vaishnaviite shrines -- the controversy was expected to offset the ‘anti-god’ Dravidian core politics, based on perceived ‘rationalism’ of the PeriyarEVR kind.

Today, with the ‘Cauvery row’ in full flow, the DMK has managed to wrest the ‘pan-Tamil initiative’ for the Dravidian polity as a whole.

What more, the DMK has also stolen much of the ‘Tamil thunder’ that had belonged to peripheral pan-Tamil groups over the Jallikattu protests in January 2017, drawing massive crowds across the state, and yet ending up in mob violence in the main, Marina venue in Chennai city -- especially for want of an institutional leadership that had its mind set not just in the immediate present, but more so in the future, both near and far.

Despite the SC order of Monday, the DMK and allies have decided to continue with their long march on Cauvery issue, which is taking the party’s working president M K Stalin through rarely-visited interior villages, on and off the delta, after a successful state-wide bandh on April 5.

The DMK has reciprocated the Vanniar-centric PMK’s call for a bandhon April 11, a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Chennai visit for  inaugurating the multi-nation  ‘India Defence Expo’ and for another function on April 12.

Possibly seeking to keep major protests under its wing and hoping to keep it all ‘legit’ and non-violent, Stalin has since reiterated the call for showing black flags to PM Modi, who is scheduled to take the air route to the venues of his Chennai functions.

More importantly, the party has called upon the state’s people to hoist black flags on their rooftops on the day and wear black dress, too, to protest the BJP-led Centre’s ‘poll-driven partisanship’ to all causes Tamil, Cauvery being the latest.

Against this, peripheral political groups and a few minor electoral parties did call for a boycott of the IPL cricket league match played in Chennai’s M A Chidambaram Stadium, on Tuesday night.

Unlike in the past, most such groups have also been resorting to unannounced flash-strikes in various parts of the state, over the past few days. The protests included instant rail roko, road toll-booth blockade and blockade of some central government offices, all without prior notice.

Though no major incident of violence was reported in various protests, including the ‘IPL blockade’, all stake-holders were over-cautious in ensuring that it did not end the ‘Jallikattu protest’ way, when one of the largest and widespread peaceful agitations in post-Independence era, ended up in avoidable violence, especially in the main Marina venue, in Chennai. In a way, the Jallikattu violence also owed to the spontaneity of what became a mass movement, with no identifiable leadership party or individual.

Most of the local TV channels did not show it, but there were a few minor incidents, including a protestor pushing and hitting a policeman on duty, at the hours-long anti-IPL protests. Award-winning Tamil film-maker Bharathiraja, the trend-setter since the mid-’70s, set a new trend in Tamil Nadu’s protest politics by readily apologising on camera for the few incidents that had occurred even as the drama was unfolding elsewhere in the same stretch. 

Among the protestors were three MLAs, all belonging to minor political parties who had won the 2016 assembly polls under the ruling AIADMK ticket -- but have gone their own way in the months after the death of then chief minister Jayalalithaa.

Also present on the occasion was pan-Tamil ‘Naam Tamizhar Party’ leader and one-time film-maker, Seeman. All of them courted arrest without protest, as planned.

After the ‘Jallikattu protest violence’, which is still being probed by a commission of inquiry, the mainline parties, especially the DMK, would not also want a repeat of being blamed for the ‘conducive atmosphere that prevailed, leading up to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination’ in 1991 and the ‘Coimbatore serial blasts’ seven years later in 1998.

Today, ahead of the parliamentary polls of 2019, when there are more peripheral groups taking to the streets on every issue, legit or otherwise, all across the state, it is obvious the mainline polity is as careful as the government and the state police.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy