Cauvery Row: Siddaramaiah Govt Failed to Stem Bengaluru Violence
Violence in Bengaluru resulted because the Karnataka government lacked political resolve, writes TS Sudhir.
A day before Bakrid, Bengaluru’s brand equity was sacrificed at the altar of jingoistic sub-nationalism and regional chauvinism. As lumpen elements crawled out of Bengaluru’s dark underbelly, taking control of areas in the city’s north and south-west, metamorphosing into arsonists, police were missing in action. Several shops were damaged, 35-odd buses owned by a person hailing from Tamil Nadu torched.
As Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah watched the scenes on TV, he could only wonder at the ineptness of his police force. Because only on Monday morning the city police commissioner assured him that “everything is under control’’ after the intelligence wing warned of the possibility of trouble breaking out.
In fact, right from the word go, the Cauvery crisis has been marked by mismanagement by the Karnataka government, making one wonder if Bengaluru is, in fact, Bungle-uru. That Karnataka had 39 percent deficit rainfall in August resulting in water levels much lower than in 2015, was an open secret. But Tamil Nadu insisted on at least 50,000 cusecs everyday, conceding that it has been a distress year in the Cauvery basin.
Instead of Bengaluru speaking to Chennai and engaging in political dialogue to find a solution across the table, Karnataka’s political leadership played to the gallery. It made farmers in the Cauvery delta, who have been denied water for their fields because Bengaluru had to be supplied 1,450 million litres every day, believe that not a drop of water will be given to Tamil Nadu. But the moment the Supreme court asked Karnataka to “live and let live’’, it softened and offered to give 10,000 cusecs of water everyday for five days.
Farmers Felt Betrayed
The problem was that farmers were unaware that in contrast to the ‘we won’t budge’ position in Bengaluru, Karnataka was singing a different tune in New Delhi. The moment Tamil Nadu scaled down its demand from 50,000 cusecs everyday to 20,000 cusecs, the court decided to arrive at a compromise figure of 15,000 cusecs for 10 days on 5 September. Subsequently a week later, it modified the order to make it 12,000 cusecs but extended the time limit to 20 September.
The farmers felt betrayed and understandably so. The angst of Mandya’s farmers was that when they did not get water why should water be released for Tamil Nadu’s farmers. In fact, in Mandya, the area under cultivation of paddy and sugarcane is 63 percent less than its target of 72,000 hectares this season.
The Karnataka bandh on Friday was near total. The Cauvery has always been a highly emotive issue in this part of the country. In 1991, anti-Tamil riots in Bengaluru left 28 dead and nearly 2 lakh Tamils are reported to have left the city in panic. Siddaramaiah and his Tamil Nadu counterpart Jayalalithaa made no attempt to ensure the police force in both the states work in tandem to ensure there were no attacks on Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu and Tamilians in Karnataka.
It is not as if the two states have always fought over Cauvery waters. In the 80s, when Ramakrishna Hegde and MG Ramachandran were respectively chief ministers of the two states, they worked out a mutually-acceptable formula, without getting the Centre or the courts involved. And this was in the time before the tribunal award. Statesmanship this time, sadly, was found wanting.
Delayed Police Action
Fringe groups intimidated and behaved like custodians of the Kannada or Tamil cause. Both states have many such letterhead outfits who will do anything for a price. The Bengaluru Police took 24 hours to rein in some 500 of them. Most of them are rowdy-sheeters, with past records in neighbourhood police stations. Despite having the database of possible troublemakers available for freelancing, police erred in not rounding them up before. It reflected poorly on their intelligence network and intent to be on top of the situation.
The result has been a huge financial dent to the IT city, with the industry body Assocham estimating that Cauvery-related trouble has resulted in a loss of Rs 22,000 to Rs 25,000 crore. The US has already issued an advisory asking its citizens to avoid trouble spots in Karnataka, including Bengaluru.
Centre Also to be Blamed
The Cauvery dispute was sorted to an extent in 2007 when the tribunal gave its award. But even though the final order was issued in February 2012, the Centre has dragged its feet on forming the Cauvery Management Board which would be the deciding authority in all disputes. With the PM reluctant to intervene, the Supreme Court has had to play the adjudicator.
Responsibility of Political Class
On Monday, when Metro Rail services stopped and schools decided to shut early, fear ruled Bengaluru. With rumours floating on social media and WhatsApp messages fuelling them, India’s Silicon Valley logged on to malware of anarchy. To make matters worse, Team Siddaramaiah’s communication strategy was pathetic. No one spoke with authority to ensure pictures of violence were not played out on loop on TV channels or to communicate to the world which parts of the city were troubled spots.
What Bengaluru needs now is purging – a thorough clean-up of the device called government – to ensure the political class acts with responsibility and authority and that a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru is not subjected to a hoodlum coup.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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