IN THE month-long Cauvery water crisis in Karnataka, it is former PM H D Deve Gowda that seems to have made the biggest political gains on account of the leadership role he has taken up after Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah invited him on September 21.
Deve Gowda, 84, has also reclaimed his position as protector of the rights of farmers of south Karnataka, which he had lost to an extent in 1995 when, as CM, he had agreed to a request by the then PM to release water to Tamil Nadu during a Cauvery distress year.
Now, as he upstages the Congress and the BJP, leaders from even those parties applauded his role Monday during a debate in the state legislature.
“Deve Gowda has kept constant track of the developments in the Cauvery issue. He informed the Prime Minister of the situation,” Siddaramaiah said. “When he went on a hunger strike against the Supreme Court’s order to set up the Cauvery Monitoring Board I told him he should not be doing it at his age. He has now gone to Delhi again to press for a fair deal for Karnataka.” And Congress minister Ramesh Kumar said, “Deve Gowda is a people’s leader, a statesman.”
“He informed the PMO last week that he was launching a hunger strike since he thought the PM would be caught up in the security crisis and may not know of the water crisis in Karnataka,” Deve Gowda’s H D Kumaraswamy, former CM, said Monday. “He sat on the hunger strike to correct the injustice done to the state. If after 50 years of fighting for the people there is no solution what is the use of being alive, he asked.”
The indefinite hunger strike Gowda launched on October 1 was called off after ministers in the BJP-led government at the Centre – H N Ananth Kumar and D V Sadananda Gowda – assured him they would intercede with Prime Minister Modi.
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On Monday the Attorney General filed a plea for modification of a September 30 order of the Supreme Court directing the setting up of the Cauvery board by October 4.
“The AG has accepted he should have checked with the government before agreeing to the setting up of the board. The PM has taken bold steps after he was briefed. I congratulate the PM, central ministers and H D Deve Gowda for the role they played,” said Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar (BJP).
When the crisis started with the Supreme Court ordering release of water to Tamil Nadu, Gowda said Karnataka will need to do so, although the Congress government had declared there was no water for sharing.
When a bandh was called on September 9, the former PM flew to Delhi to meet Modi and apprised him of fears in Karnataka. Ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on September 12, he chartered a helicopter and flew around the Cauvery basin. “My objective in conducting the aerial survey is to understand the situation and suggest the future course of action to the government,” he said on September 11. When the Supreme Court ordered further release of water on September 12, he again advised the state to do so.
“On two occasions Deve Gowda asked us to give water to Tamil Nadu. Don’t be adamant, he said, because the main
matter will be coming up on October 18… However after the September 20 order he said we should stop giving water,’’ Siddaramaiah said.
On September 20 with pressure mounting on the Karnataka government and with the BJP deciding to boycott an all-party meeting called by Siddaramaiah, the latter turned to Deve Gowda for help. Leaning on his past experience with the Cauvery water crisis, Deve Gowda suggested that water release to Tamil Nadu be deferred. He suggested the legislature pass a resolution reserving all water in reservoirs in Karnataka for drinking only.
The Congress government moved a resolution on September 23 deferring release to Tamil Nadu until the storage situation improved. With the BJP also backing the move, the House passed a resolution unanimously.
On September 30, when the Supreme Court ordered the setting up of a Cauvery board in four days and when the Centre agreed, Gowda went on a hunger strike to appeal to the PM and seemingly had his way. “There is a tradition in Karnataka that on issues of culture, land and water, politicians stand together,” Siddaramaiah said.