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Updated - November 17, 2021 02:24 am IST

Published - September 14, 2016 12:56 am IST

Emotions often trump reason. The Cauvery water dispute is turning out to be less about water and irrigation and more about linguistic chauvinism and regional identity. Nothing else can explain the > mindless violence in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Supreme Court order asking the former to release water to the latter, keeping in view the distress situation in both States in a season of deficit rainfall. Many of the acts of violence have been perpetuated in the two States by chauvinistic, fringe organisations that have little to do with the farming community or its interests. It is clear that there is insufficient water in Karnataka’s reservoirs to meet the full irrigation needs of both States. The point of the Supreme Court order was to make the States share their distress and not to magically fulfil the needs of farmers on both sides. But political parties and some media houses, especially regional language television channels, have sought to portray the issue as one that pits the people of one State against that of the other. Indeed, the two major national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have taken different stands in the two States on this issue. No party or State government appears to believe it can afford to be seen as taking even so much as a conciliatory step toward defusing the crisis. On some previous occasions when Karnataka released water in a distress year the State government did so quietly so as to not give chauvinistic elements any opportunity to inflame passions.

Cauvery is an inter-State dispute, but this is no reason to turn the issue into a raging controversy that draws the peoples of the two States into confrontation. That Tamil-speaking people settled in Karnataka for generations are made to feel insecure, and business establishments run by entrepreneurs tracing their familial ties to Karnataka are targeted in Tamil Nadu are indications of how the water dispute goes beyond the interests of the people and becomes mixed up with the emotive issue of linguistic identity. Ideally, as stipulated by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the technicalities of water-sharing should be left to the Cauvery Management Board, which is to monitor the water flows with the help of the Cauvery Regulation Committee and the respective State authorities. If Cauvery is not to be made a plaything in the hands of chauvinists, the governments of the two States as well as at the Centre need to send out a strong signal to the marauding mobsters that violence, in whatever name, will be put down strongly by the security forces. As laid down by the CWDT, the issue of water-sharing should be left in the hands of technical experts, and not politicians who are hostage to the emotions of a parochial fringe.

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