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Hardly a drop to drink, but water not a poll issue for Dravidian majors

By N Sathiya Moorthy
March 26, 2019 16:36 IST

At first look, the reader would be aghast at the similarities in the DMK and AIADMK’s manifestos, wondering if the same hand had drafted both. Yet, when it comes to drinking water and irrigation supplies, both parties are equally silent on the subject -- as if summer did not exist, as didn’t water scarcity, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: File photograph showing a parched Chembarapakkam lake bed on the outskirts of Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo

Days after they had launched their respective manifestos on the same day, the ruling AIADMK and the rival parent DMK  in Tamil Nadu have not mentioned a word about what their voters are possibly scared of the most during the Lok Sabha poll time this summer.

Neither has mentioned the unforgettable drinking water scarcity that is already upon the state, and could be a major daily issue for the voters as the voting day, April 18, arrives, at the height of summer that is already here.

At first look, the reader would be aghast at the similarities in the two manifestos, wondering if the same hand had drafted both. If in the past the common refrain was that only the proof-reader and an occasional editorial writer read these documents in full and in some detail, this time round, it’s possible even he needed to have read it only once -- if written by the same hand, and printed at the same press.

 

So similar are the two manifestos that they have promised the very same things -- like farm loan-waiver, stipend/dole, and, of course, NEET exemption which the AIADMK state government has been enforcing and the DMK Opposition has been opposing. Where the two parties seem to differ, it may be on an odd issue, or in detail.

Yet, when it comes to drinking water and irrigation supplies, both parties are equally silent on the subject -- as if summer did not exist, as didn’t water scarcity. Whether or not they are able to do something about it, before or even after the elections, with the current elections mainly being for electing a government at the national level, their respective manifestos should have talked more about river links, beginning with those within the state, before traversing out.

Already, villages and towns across the state are dotted with long queues of people, both men and women, young and old, waiting at the public water taps attached to government-built overhead tanks and manned by local panchayats. With local bodies elections long since forgotten, despite repeated reminders and warnings from the Madras high court, the state government is in charge of ensuring that there is water in the overhead tank and there is water in the taps.

In urban and semi-urban centres, government-run tankers supply drinking water at street-corners, and they are already operational most part of the year. However, for long, suburban populations, whose ground water stocks are being tapped for urban supplies, have been complaining and protesting -- with little or no effect. In the past, they had also protested against ground water tapping, especially by private entrepreneurs and tanker-lorry owners, and have also arrested men and their vehicles until the authorities/police intervened. 

If such protests erupt overnight in any or many part(s) of the state and with a certain consistency between now and poll time, the chances are that radical left movements, outside of the mainstream polity, may be ‘working with the people’, as was the case with the ‘liquor ban protests’ ahead of the assembly polls of 2011. This has been a recurring occurrence across the state on a series of other issues and concerns, earlier and later -- impeding at times developmental projects of the Kudamkulam N-plant and others, since.

In between, the police firing on the ‘anti-Sterlite’ protestors in southern Thoothukudy last year, claiming 13 lives, and the subsequent tough action against land-owners protesting take-over for the Salem-Chennai eight-lane highway, may have discouraged future protestors. However, drinking water is more immediate an issue than any other for people to take to the streets. So is election time a wrong occasion for the authorities (read: ruling party) to act tough on protestors.

In the process, the absence of any blue-print for providing drinking water, irrigation and industrial supplies in the twin Dravidian manifestos may hit the young segments of the youthful majority of voters hard on their face. The election time is also examination time for most/all of them, and now with the campaign peaking, they would have questions for the politicos, for which no one has guessed any answer.

If anything, going by the form and content of the rival manifestos, the ‘Big Two’ Dravidian majors want the voter to forget water for the moment, and focus more on what all is on promise. Ask, however, economists and veteran economy managers of previous governments, they do not know where from the two parties hope to mop up the resources required for all the freebies schemes that they have announced.

But the two party leaderships do not seem overly concerned. In their estimation, as over the past two-plus decades of economic reforms across the country, a state like Tamil Nadu incapacitated by the availability of basic natural resources like water, building on the social infrastructure becomes a modern-day necessity. Independent of whichever between the two is in power, the Dravidian majors are cued to this reality -- though they do not ‘dress it up’ in the terms and phraseology of economists and sociologists.

Independent of what economists may have to say on the various poll-promises of rival Dravidian majors in Tamil Nadu, the fact is that national parties, including the Congress-UPA with ‘reforms architect’ Manmohan Singh as prime minister, and the preceding and succeeding BJP governments of Vajpayee and now Narendra Modi, too seem to have put ‘electoral pragmatism’ above ‘economic realism’, all through -- and borrowing much of their ideas from the south Indian state.

Less said about their counterparts from other states the better. Some of them have even despatched official teams to study Tamil Nadu’s social welfare schemes like ‘Amma Canteen’ when Jayalalithaa was chief minister and other schemes, both under the AIADMK and DMK regimes, whenever some other scheme got rolled out -- and caught the imagination, either of the national media or of world organisations and governments -- or, both.

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

N Sathiya Moorthy
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