Cauvery row shakes up people and political parties

Bangalore, Feb 9 (IANS) The Cauvery is hailed as Karnataka's 'jeeva nadi' (lifeline). This year, however, it has badly hit life of people in its delta region and also has left political parties in poll-bound Karnataka in a tizzy.

Though hailed as Karnataka's 'jeeva nadi', the Cauvery caters to the needs of people only in Bangalore and districts of Kodagu, Mysore, Mandya, Ramanagaram and Chamarajanagar.

As people in these areas wait to see how their needs, particularly for drinking water till the monsoon returns in June, will be met if more Cauvery water is released to Tamil Nadu, political parties are already playing the blame game with the polls in mind.

The Supreme Court Thursday ordered Karnataka to release "forthwith" 2.44 tmc (thousand million cubic) feet of water to Tamil Nadu, notwithstanding the state's plea that it was in no position to do so.

Besides, what is also rattling Karnataka is the apex court's directive to the central government to notify the final award of the Cauvery Waters Disputes Tribunal by Feb 20. Karnataka is against notifying the award as it has petitioned the apex court against it.

The apex court, however, has clarified that notification of the award would not affect the petitions challenging the award.

The directives have come just as parties in Karnataka are gearing up for elections to the 225-member assembly due in May.

Polls will be held to elect 224 members. One member is nominated.

Of the 224 seats, Bangalore and the five districts account for 60 seats and the dominant force in the region is the Congress which is leading the central government.

The Supreme Court ruling has come in handy for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in the state for the first time, and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S). It has given them the ground to taunt the Congress for its "failure" to impress the central government to protect the state's interest at a time it is facing the worst drought in over four decades.

The Congress, realising that the Cauvery row could singe it in the polls, is hitting back aggressively at the BJP, blaming it for 'mishandling' the state's case both politically and legally.

Its contention is that the BJP government has failed to forcefully present the state's case with facts and figures to both the central government and the Supreme Court.

The blame game will only intensify as a lot is at stake for both the Congress and the BJP in the region.

In the 2008 polls, the Congress had bagged 28 of the 60 seats while the BJP won 23 with JD-S taking eight and independent one.

Of the 23 the BJP won, 17 came from Bangalore urban district alone that sends 28 representatives to the assembly.

Overall, the Congress had won 80 seats in the last polls while the BJP got 110.

Exploiting the Cauvery row to the BJP's discomfort is its former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa who quit the party and the assembly Nov 30 to lead the Karnataka Janata Party.

He is now on a 'padayatra' (march) from Mysore to Bangalore, a distance of about 130 km, to demand that the central government not notify the tribunal's final award. He started the walk Thursday and will conclude it Feb 14.

Congress veteran and former external affairs minister S.M. Krishna, who hails from Mandya, about 80 km from Bangalore, has lent his support to the plea of all political parties in the state to the central government to not notify the award.

In a statement Thursday, he said the central government should seek time from the apex court since petitions challenging the award were still pending.

Krishna knows the effect drought can have on poll prospects.

He led the Congress government in the state in 1999-2004 and is hailed for turning Bangalore into an IT hub.

Successive droughts hit Karnataka and the Congress lost power in the 2004 polls.

However, this time, the Congress hopes it will return to power despite the Cauvery row, as the BJP's credibility lies shattered because of corruption scandals and dissidence.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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