With Karnataka elections round the corner, party has to look neutral

For the second time in three weeks, the Congress Core Group met here on Tuesday to discuss the Cauvery dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with Union Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat invited once again to brief the apex body. The view taken at the meeting was that the Centre should leave resolution of the dispute to the Supreme Court.

This came after the court, earlier in the day, suggested to Tamil Nadu that it take up the matter with the Cauvery Water Authority, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Karnataka remained firm that it could not spare any water.

Mr Rawat, Congress sources told The Hindu, informed the Core Group of the conflicting claims of the States as well as the current availability of water in the Cauvery. He said legal opinion would have to be taken from the Law Ministry.

Those who attended the meeting included the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

Meanwhile, government sources said the Centre might not be able to postpone notification of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal for much longer. This comes against the backdrop of Tamil Nadu urging the Centre to notify it, even as Karnataka’s embattled Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar has written to both the Prime Minister and Mr. Rawat, asking them not to do so. However, the government sources stressed, on the issue of the final award, Karnataka had taken conflicting positions: while its legal counsel agreed that the award had to be accepted, the Chief Minister opposed it.

For the Congress, which is hoping to return to power in Karnataka when it goes to the polls later this year, largely because the ruling BJP is in disarray, the Cauvery dispute poses a challenge. Senior Congress B.L. Shankar told The Hindu that while it was “no longer an emotional issue in the State,” the Janata Dal (Secular) would try to make it an election issue as its “strength and influence lie in the districts that are in the Cauvery basin.” He admitted that the role of the Congress-led UPA government was being closely observed in the State, though it had little role to play in the final outcome as the matter was before court. He said the JD(S) would try and pin the blame on the Congress and the BJP if things did not go in favour of Karnataka. The BJP, too, would hold the Congress responsible for the final outcome.

The Congress, therefore, has to look as neutral as possible in the dispute it is to emerge unscathed.

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