13 Apr 2018 19:04 IST

A bend in the river

Cauvery river water sharing farmers IPL protest

That TN and Karnataka have not yet settled the Cauvery issue is a sad reflection on our federal polity

The BCCI’s decision to move all of Chennai Super Kings’ home games out of Chennai led to frustration for the fans and cries of victory from groups that had been demanding this. Pune is where CSK will now play its ‘home’ games. Though Vizag and Thiruvananthapuram were also considered, Pune was chosen — ostensibly for its better flight connectivity. But one gets the feeling that the IPL governing council wanted to play it safe and move the matches out of southern India to avoid any potential trouble.

The irony is that, despite the political demonstrations and threats of violence, the Tamil Nadu government and State police put their best foot forward and managed to conduct the first CSK match in two years at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai on Tuesday without any major untoward incidents. So, in a way, moving the matches after successful conduct of the first match was a slap in the face for the Tamil Nadu government.

The CSK fans will be deprived IPL action in their backyard this year. But is the agony of the cricket fans greater than the misery of the farmers who have been suffering from a prolonged spell of rural distress? Or is mixing cricket and farmers’ issues not quite cricket? Did the political class in Tamil Nadu and the ‘fringe’ outfits trivialise the farmers’ issue by linking it with cricket? By connecting the two, did politicians in the State manage to bring more attention to the plight of TN farmers at the national level? Or is cricket just a convenient punching bag for all and sundry?

These are some of the questions that have been swirling around over the past week, the answers to which still remain elusive.

Delay in setting up board

Tamil Nadu’s political parties and outfits such as Naam Tamizhar have been roundly and justifiably criticised for equating Cauvery river water sharing with the IPL. Even more baffling is the Tamil film industry’s jumping on to the bandwagon and further raising the already high temperatures.

Veteran film director Bharatiraja, who was at the forefront of the protests, predictably claimed victory and said that moving the IPL matches out of Chennai had restored Tamil “pride” and “valour”. Now will the Tamil film industry, which never misses an opportunity to wade into political controversy, halt shooting and release of films till Cauvery water issue is resolved to its satisfaction?

In this whole sorry episode Tamil Nadu’s political class and the ‘fringe’ outfits have come in for considerable criticism, some of it unjustified. But the one party that has hardly got any flak is the Central government, which is astounding. It is, after all, the Centre’s inaction in forming the Supreme Court-mandated Cauvery Water Board that led to this impasse.

The BJP-led government deliberately sat on this issue as it did not want to be seen doing anything that would be perceived as being inimical to Karnataka’s interests in the run-up to the high-stakes Assembly elections there. The BJP has a real shot at coming back to power in Karnataka and it would rather risk antagonising Tamil Nadu, where it hardly has a presence, than muffing its chances there. This seems to be the BJP’s strategy.

The Centre had, in fact, sought more time from the Supreme Court to form the scheme for water sharing due to the May 12 Karnataka State elections.

The Supreme Court last Monday, while hearing the contempt of court petition filed by Tamil Nadu government, slammed the Centre for its inaction on the issue and directed it to show a bona fide reason and submit a draft scheme by May 3 on the sharing of waters. It will be interesting to see how the Centre moves now and what impact that is likely to have on the outcome of the Karnataka elections.

Alternative resources for farmers

From Tamil Nadu’s perspective, though the State has solid reasons to see itself as the aggrieved party in this issue, it is also time the State’s political class and policy-makers start seriously looking at alternatives to the Cauvery waters for the farming community. For a State that doesn’t get heavy rainfall, unlike Kerala and coastal Karnataka, it’s time for the State to create better infrastructure to conserve rain and groundwater instead of relying on the fickle Cauvery waters, something it should have already done.

There have also been some media reports suggesting policy-makers from Tamil Nadu seek Israel’s expertise in this area. Moving away from cultivation of water-intensive crops such as paddy is also a course of action the farming community must seriously consider.

Bitter foes India and Pakistan, which have been in a constant state of confrontation over the last 70 years, have still managed to amicably share the Indus River waters. This despite fighting three wars, the festering Kashmir issue and Pakistan’s open support to armed militancy in the State. That two States within the Indian union have not managed to amicably resolved the Cauvery river water issue is indeed a sad reflection on our federal polity.

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