When a Chief Minister went on a four-day fast for Cauvery water 

July 18 this year marked the 30th anniversary of the fast observed by Jayalalithaa to seek water release. The crux of her demand pertained to the formulation of a scheme to ensure the implementation of the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal notified by the Centre in its gazette in December 1991

August 02, 2023 12:08 am | Updated 12:44 pm IST

 Sitting on a sofa positioned on an elevated platform, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, on the inaugural day of her fast, was seen reading 100 Great Modern Lives.

 Sitting on a sofa positioned on an elevated platform, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, on the inaugural day of her fast, was seen reading 100 Great Modern Lives. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

July 18 is, of late, remembered as Tamil Nadu Day as it was on this date in 1967 Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai moved a resolution in the Assembly for renaming the Madras State as Tamil Nadu. But, this year, it also marked the 30th anniversary of a four-day fast observed by Jayalalithaa during her first innings as the Chief Minister. And this was an event that went unnoticed.

The fast was over the Cauvery issue, a matter that has been a part of the political discourse in this region of the country for over 100 years. The period in which Jayalalithaa went on the fast was in the initial years of the phase of the Cauvery dispute after the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. The Tribunal gave its order in June 1991 mandating Karnataka to ensure that the Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu realised 205 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water annually (June-May). A monthly schedule was also drawn up. Karnataka had, for long, opposed the route of tribunal and the interim order. The beginning of the water year 1993-94 saw the southwest monsoon playing truant in the Cauvery catchments, and according to the Karnataka government, except in Kabini, the storage in other reservoirs did not provide any comfort. As per the schedule, Tamil Nadu should have got 10.16 tmc ft in June and 42.76 tmc ft in July, whereas, that year, the State had realised 4.82 tmc ft in June and 7.4 tmc ft in the first half of July.

No implementation mechanism

Against this backdrop, Jayalalithaa decided to go on an “indefinite fast,” seeking water release, a development that took her Cabinet colleagues and the officialdom by surprise. She had talked of the need for water release by Karnataka for the standing kuruvai crop. But the crux of her demand pertained to the formulation of a scheme to ensure the implementation of the order notified by the Centre in its gazette in December 1991. Unlike the current Cauvery Water Management Authority, established in June 2018 for the final award of the Tribunal and the Supreme Court’s 2018 judgment, there was no implementation mechanism for the interim order. Her fast had then reminded many of what her political mentor and former Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) did 10 years earlier. On February 9, 1983, he observed a seven-hour fast near the mausoleum of his mentor Annadurai to highlight the Centre’s “indifference” to the State’s request for provision of more rice to meet the “critical food situation”.

Jayalalithaa’s fast site was located between the mausoleums of Annadurai and MGR on the Marina. Clad in a green-coloured sari and sitting on a sofa positioned on an elevated platform, the Chief Minister, on the inaugural day (a Sunday), was seen reading a book, 100 Great Modern Lives, according to a report on The Hindu on July 19, 1993.

Governor rushes from Puducherry

One of the callers that day was Governor M. Channa Reddy, who was also holding the additional charge of Lt. Governor of Puducherry. Reddy, who was in Puducherry, rushed to Chennai and persuaded her in vain for nearly an hour to abandon her fast. The Governor conveyed the appeal of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to her to give up the protest. By then, the ties between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister were going through a lean phase as Jayalalithaa, four months earlier, had declared withdrawal of her party’s support to the Congress government at the Centre.

A couple of her Ministers had spent Sunday night at the venue, napping in chairs. But, on Monday night, at least eight Ministers decided to catch up on their sleep in the open. After Jayalalithaa retired to bed around 11 p.m., the Ministers spent some time chatting among themselves or with the officials. And, around 1 a.m., some of the Ministers went to sleep on bed sheets spread on the lush lawn.

Meanwhile, her fast had led to several of her party members attempting to immolate themselves, an act which Jayalalithaa had appealed against. Chennai, on the second day of her fast, practically observed a bandh. She started receiving streams of visitors, including former President R. Venkataraman, former Union Minister C. Subramaniam and film stars, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.

On July 20, Jayalalithaa looked pale and haggard and her voice became feeble. She was inclined more to lying down on a cot than being seated. Health Minister S. Muthusamy, (now Housing and Urban Development Minister) and Speaker Sedappati R. Muthiah told journalists that when they and other Ministers urged her to end the protest, the Chief Minister had bluntly told them that she had undertaken the fast “for a cause and not for publicity”. The Governor, accompanied by his wife, also had a brief meeting with her.

Around midnight that day, Union Minister for Water Resources V.C. Shukla reached Bengaluru to hold discussions with his colleague in the Congress and Karnataka Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily. On Wednesday (July 21), Shukla was in Chennai to have two rounds of discussions with Jayalalithaa, the first for 20 minutes from 10.15 a.m. and the second for about half-an-hour from 4.55 p.m. The Governor, too, joined the second round of discussions, states a report of The Hindu on July 22, 1993.

Wild cheers

Around 5.30 p.m. “a beaming Finance Minister” V.R. Nedunchezhiyan announced Jayalalithaa’s decision to end her fast in the light of the Centre’s move to form two committees — one for the implementation of the award and the other for monitoring of the data with reference to the implementation. His announcement prompted a huge crowd to break into “wild cheers” and burst crackers. The Chief Minister, who broke the fast by taking orange juice offered by the Governor and the Union Minister, called the Centre’s response a “great victory”. Beyond Shukla’s announcement of the Centre’s decision, the fast did not achieve much. It took five years for the Centre, that too when the BJP was in power with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, to create the implementation mechanism in the form of the Cauvery River Authority. At that point of time, in Tamil Nadu, it was Jayalalithaa’s principal adversary, M. Karunanidhi, of the DMK, who was in power.

At right, Jayalalithaa ending her fast by sipping juice in the presence of Governor M. Channa Reddy and Union Water Resources Minister V.C. Shukla.

At right, Jayalalithaa ending her fast by sipping juice in the presence of Governor M. Channa Reddy and Union Water Resources Minister V.C. Shukla. | Photo Credit: PTI

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