The Supreme Court’s landmark judgement that “rivers do not belong to States but to the country” is likely to have a major impact on the ensuing Assembly elections in Karnataka. This is more so because the ruling is to be a benchmark for settling all future inter-State water disputes.
The apex court upholding the right of Bengaluru over the Cauvery water has come as a huge relief for the government. The city of Bengaluru which has a population of about 11 million depends mostly on Cauvery for its drinking water requirements. The locals have been starved of water quite literally for several months now. The Siddaramaiah government would like to claim it as a big victory as Tamil Nadu had opposed Cauvery water supply to Bengaluru, arguing that it was not part of the Cauvery belt.
It is common knowledge that there have been umpteen agitations whenever a demand for Cauvery waters for Bengaluru was made. Hence, the Congress was worried that the 138-year-old legal dispute may cause adverse impact in the Assembly elections if the verdict went against the State’s interests.
There is, however, a flip side to it. Bengaluru has a sizeable Tamil population and this could dent the electoral prospects of the ruling party, which is desperate to quell the challenge of a resurgent BJP. However, political analysts say that, “the overall results will be in favour of Congress, because the Chief Minister refused to budge an inch following the 2016 Supreme Court order in this regard. He took a risk in the Legislative Assembly and said that even if it means contempt of court, he won't give water when people don't have it.”
Politically, the judgment does not seem to be good for the main opposition BJP as it had continuously criticised the government and demanded that the team of lawyers be changed. a demand that Siddaramaiah turned down. It is a blessing in disguise as his steadfast insistence has paid tangible dividends to him. The BJP has been very cautious in its reaction to the judgement. It has said that it would react after going through the entire judgement copy. But it cannot duck for long as elections are round the corner and they are racing against time.
Interestingly, the former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda also needs to be given some credit for the outcome in favour of Karnataka since he being an expert on irrigation had on several occasions played a constructive role and advised the government and the lawyers on the stand they should adopt in the apex court. But then when it comes to electoral politics, the JD(S) may not be able to cash in on it.
Against this backdrop, Congress feels that since it is a pro-farmer verdict, JD(S) will tend to gain. It now remains to be seen whether the Congress would make full use of this verdict to corner votes in the upcoming elections.
What would the Tamil parties do now? The verdict is bound to have its ramifications on Southern politics.
While the Congress feels that it would now be an easy victory over BJP, the Centre was quick to bring in the issue of inter-linking of river waters. It has once again reiterated the need for inter-linking of river waters and has referred to Polavaram project and what the AP government had done to take Godavari waters to Krishna and then onwards to Pennar to be connected to Cauvery, which would benefit Tamil Nadu. This verdict is likely to have a bearing on the long-standing dispute involving Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
The humdrum of campaigning which was so far centering around corruption now is likely to shift focus to what the Congress has done to protect the interests of Karnataka, which happens to be an upper riparian State. Rahul Gandhi during his campaign referring to corruption at the Centre has been saying that he had toured the nation, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and there is discernible anger among the people at the NDA Government.
The newly elected Congress President has called upon the people to vote for someone who can preserve the “Swabhiman and culture of the nation.” The judgement on Cauvery waters will, indeed, be projected as upholding the Kannada Swabhimaan.
The Congress party, which is now fully in an election mode, has begun the process of selecting candidates for the Assembly elections. It has started the exercise from Gadag district where it has an upper hand. Analysts aver that the Congress is likely to field all the sitting MLAs in all the four Assembly constituencies, while the BJP will have to sweat it out to field its candidates as the number of ticket aspirants are too high for an easy selection.
The BJP wrested Gadag district from the Congress by winning all four Assembly segments in the 2008 Assembly polls. Infighting and a series of corruption allegations against the BJP government helped the Congress to take the district back to its fold in the 2013 polls. The JD(S) too is trying its best to improve its base taking Mahadayi water dispute issue to the doorsteps of the voters.
Similarly in Naragund, the sitting Congress MLA who won five times is trying his luck for the sixth time in the next polls. This constituency has drawn the State’s attention after protests were held for Mahadayi and Kalasa Banduri water. Dual voting— voters choosing one party at the Centre and another at the State level — is very typical of Karnataka. So, if the BJP is unlucky enough to lose the upcoming Assembly election, it can hope to do well in the Lok Sabha polls next year.
In 2013, voters wanted to throw out the state's BJP government because of scams involving its Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, as also infighting, political instability, moral policing by its cadres, and several other reasons. Even Modi was of no help though he was popular among a section of the voters back then. At that point, most voters saw no sense in returning BJP to power. But a year later, it made enough sense for them to have Modi as the Prime Minister.