Here’s How #GoBackModi and the Cauvery Water Dispute Are Linked

PM Narendra Modi’s Chennai visit on 12 April to inaugurate the Defence Expo created a new record and controversy.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Chennai visit on 12 April to inaugurate the Defence Expo created a new record and controversy. It was a day of protests in Chennai, marked by a display of black flags and black balloons to condemn the Centre's inaction on the Cauvery issue.

Despite a Supreme Court order seven weeks ago asking the Centre to put in place a “scheme” to implement the final order on the sharing of Cauvery’s water among the basin states, the Centre did nothing.

No 1 Twitter Trend: All in a Day's Work

Just as the six-week deadline set by the apex court was about to expire, the Centre sought a clarification on the scheme and took three months to implement it. And why the delay in seeking that clarification?

It is an open secret that because of the upcoming elections to the Karnataka Assembly on 12 May, the ruling party at the Centre – the BJP – did not want to ruin whatever chances it has to return to power in that upper riparian state now run by its arch rival Congress party.

So, the main Opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), along with its allies and fringe elements, decided to use Modi’s visit to flex their muscles and show their anger. The prime minister chose to fly out in a helicopter to participate in both functions he was invited to, and saw the scale of protests from an aerial view.

What caught the nation's attention was not just the black flags, but the most trending hashtag of the day "#GoBackModi" on Twitter. When each political party has an IT wing, it should be possible to multiply that hashtag a hundred times over, and from across the country. After all, there are enough Modi haters to focus on such an opportunity.

A day after the event, a local news channel carried a news break that Twitter had allegedly admitted that the DMK paid a huge sum of money to make "#GoBackModi" the most trending hashtag of the day. The Quint could not independently verify this information. But this might create fresh controversy in the state.


A Brief History of the Cauvery Dispute

Only two days earlier, the fringe and violent elements in the state spouted venom on the IPL match in Chennai and successfully got Chennai's matches shifted to Pune. The local and very popular Chennai Super Kings had returned to the IPL this year after a two-year ban. cricket lovers lost the opportunity to witness home matches of the Kings and the craze to cheer for them.

This protest was also in the name of Cauvery. Cricket enthusiasts in the city wondered if the Cauvery would start flowing into Tamil Nadu if the IPL matches were shifted.

If the protests cannot solve the Cauvery issue, what else can? Only political will can help resolve this issue. Let's briefly look at the history of this dispute.

Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the Union Territory of Pondicherry (now Puduchery) have been sharing Cauvery water on the basis of what came to be known as the 1924 agreement, which was valid for 50 years.

The dispute has been perceptible since 1974. The ruling party in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has been harping on the fact that it was the DMK and its leader M Karunanidhi who "betrayed the interests of the state by withdrawing a case in the Supreme Court at the behest of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.”

And now the Opposition DMK is accusing the AIADMK of not doing anything to protect the state's rights. Incidentally, it was the late chief minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa who filed a fresh case in the Supreme Court and went on to win it.

In both the Cauvery Tribunal and consequently in the Supreme Court, Tamil Nadu's rights as the lower riparian state were recognised.


Lazy Politics & Misplaced Priorities

To cut a long story short, the interim award of the tribunal was 205 tmc of water for Tamil Nadu, which the final order reduced to 192 tmc. Now, the Supreme Court has further reduced it to 177.5 tmc, providing for Benguluru's drinking water needs. The question still remains, who is to implement this? Hence, the apex court's order to device a scheme.

Now, the final order of the tribunal came in 2007 when the UPA was in power and the DMK was part of the alliance. But nothing was done. The case went back to the Supreme Court, which has now settled the issue.

Why is the order not being implemented? Because of a lack of political will and expediency. Karnataka has consistently refused to implement any order or accept a mechanism to resolve the issue. It looks at the Cauvery as a draining mechanism to discharge the surplus water. There are no issues in a normal year when the monsoon provides enough water. It is during a drought year that the problem becomes acute.

The political dimension to the issue, especially with regards to the Centre, is the interest of the the two political parties in Karnataka. Both the Congress and the BJP want to rule Karnataka, although neither of them have a chance in Tamil Nadu. That is perhaps why they do not want to be seen favouring Tamil Nadu.

Though the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to file a draft scheme by 2 May, it is quite likely that the Centre will play every card it can to hold on until Karnataka goes to polls.

It is not as though Tamil Nadu has done everything right. It has done precious little to save or conserve Cauvery’s water. In the surplus years from 2005 to 2009 and again in 2013, most of the excess water just drained into the sea.

And this ranged from 42 tmc to 100 tmc between 2005 and 2009, and another 1 lakh tmc in 2013, which saw massive floods.

An earlier attempt to set up a Cauvery Monitoring Committee became a cropper as it was toothless. The need of the hour is a judicial and administrative mechanism to ensure the implementation of the award. Leaving alone the political games of the parties, the farmers in Tamil Nadu will be happy to get the promised water on time, every year.

(Chennai-based V Jayanth is a former senior managing editor of The Hindu. 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)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More