16 Sep 2016 20:38 IST

The Cauvery fracas and changing perceptions of the State

Not only water management strategies but the role of the State itself requires a thorough rethink

The bitter feud over the sharing of Cauvery river waters has once again flared up between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court has rightly rapped both States for not doing enough to curb violence and destruction of property by protestors on both sides. Though Karnataka was worse hit by the violence, there was some sporadic act of rioting in Tamil Nadu too.

The two-day bandh observed in Karnataka has, not surprisingly, come in for a lot of criticism in the media. Editorial writers have been unanimous in condemning the bandh. Interestingly, the focus has been more on ‘Brand Bengaluru’ being tarnished due the bandh.

Bengaluru has been at the forefront of the IT revolution in India and its tag of being the country’s Silicon Valley is not without foundation. Cities such as Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai and Gurgaon joined the IT bandwagon only after Bengaluru’s success. Bengaluru, of course, is home to a host of Indian and multinational IT firms, with two of the top four Indian IT companies headquarted there. Infosys’ success, in many ways, mirrors the city’s storied IT journey.

But this success has come with a price. The city has grown enormously over the years and so has its population.  This has naturally put a strain on infrastructure; traffic in the city is truly a nightmare.

Simmering resentment

Bengaluru’s attempt to project itself as a cosmopolitan, global city connected to the world 24/7 has always been fraught with contradictions. This is not surprising, given how unequal and fragmented our society is. There is a sizeable section of the city’s population whose connection with the IT world is, at best, tenuous. It’s not clear whether this section has really benefitted from the IT revolution.

So the resentment that has been simmering over a period of time occasionally erupts into rioting over some emotive issue or the other. Now I’m not for a moment supporting the bandhs and the violence, which are tragic and futile, but the inchoate, fragmented forms of protests may be sending us a message that we are not able to hear clearly for the moment. Of course, the politicians’ cynical manipulation of these protests further muddies the waters.

Thus what we have here is one part of the city busy projecting its global identity and ‘brand’, while another, undoubtedly the more vulnerable, tries to assert its relevance and make its voice heard.

The worst affected

In a bandh, the people most affected are daily wage labourers, street vendors, hawkers and small shopkeepers, and not many seem to be shedding a tear for them. In this background, the media focus on ‘Brand Bengaluru’ and the losses suffered by corporates, no doubt substantial, is jarring.

Interestingly, the debate in the media in a subtle manner also seems to have altered the role of the State/government in the economic sphere. The role of the State now seems to be only in fostering a conducive environment for business, and nothing more. Here the State is hollowed out of all political content and exists only to facilitate business. The whole debate on the ‘ease of doing business’ by the Centre and the States is premised on this logic. There seems to be an uncritical acceptance of this libertarian view of society by our media commentators. Maybe Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘minimum government-maximum governance’ is being played out in reality.

Negotiation, compromise

One hopes that in the coming days greater sense will prevail and both the State governments will sit down and negotiate a compromise solution in a spirit of conciliation as it is the farmers in both States who are being impacted.

Also, once the political dust settles down, there couldn’t be a better time to seriously rethink the water management strategies by both States.    

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