River water issues will be a major poll plank

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s letter to his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah, seeking release of 15 tmcft of Cauvery water immediately, came on the eve Makara Sankranti. This was a just day after Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar accused Karnataka of violating the directives of the Mahadayi Inter-State Disputes Tribunal and the Supreme Court and restarting work on the Kalasa canal to divert Mahadayi river water.

These are early indications of two protracted interstate river disputes — Cauvery and Mahadayi — returning to haunt all political parties in the run-up to the Legislative Assembly polls in Karnataka.

Judgment awaited

The Supreme Court indicating that it will deliver its verdict within a month on the decades-old Cauvery dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka may create a wrangle yet again between not only the two States but also parties. Meanwhile, the dispute related to sharing of Mahadayi waters has already generated much political heat.

The Cauvery issue has deep resonance in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mandya in south Karnataka, while Mahadayi has the potential to make or break political fortunes in northern districts. Both these may even overshadow issues related to development, admit functionaries in all political parties.

If the outcome of the Supreme Court’s verdict favours Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) in particular will try to claim credit for it. “The review petition was filed questioning the CWDT verdict during my tenure as Chief Minister,” said JD(S) State president H.D. Kumaraswamy.

Votes in the Cauvery belt are crucial for this regional party.

A senior functionary in the ruling Congress said the party would decide the course of action on the Cauvery issue depending on the outcome of the verdict. Though the BJP has no big stakes in the agricultural belt of the Cauvery, Bengaluru urban votes are crucial.

However, party leaders say that Mr. Palaniswamy’s letter to Mr. Siddaramaiah indicates that the issue will gain significance much earlier than the court verdict.

Politics over letter

In north Karnataka, the Mahadayi issue has over the last month become central to political debate after Mr. Parrikar wrote to BJP State president B.S. Yeddyurappa assuring of holding talks over drinking water. The fact that he wrote to the party leader rather than the government in power gave it a strong political colour. Meanwhile, Mr. Parrikar’s move has seen a strong adverse reaction in his home State, forcing him to assert that he will do nothing against Goa’s interest. This has put BJP on the backfoot in Karnataka, as it wanted to claim credit for solving the issue out of tribunal and win over the agitating farmers of north Karnataka.

Kannada and farmers outfits have called for a Karnataka bandh on January 25 to press for the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Mahadayi row.

With the Modi government at the Centre, both Congress and JD(S) have been accusing BJP of acting against the interest of Karntaka on the Mahadayi and Cauvery issue. A senior Congress leader said the BJP and Centre have not done anything to make Tamil Nadu or Goa soften their positions.