Protesters during the bandh in Bengaluru.

Image source: PTI

Cauvery Issue: Understanding why Bengaluru was burnt

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was formed twenty-six years ago to settle the water dispute tussle between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Seventeen years after its formation, in 2007, the Tribunal came out with its final verdict. It pronounced that Tamil Nadu would be entitled to 12 km³ of water from the Cauvery river, while Karnataka should legally receive 7.6 km³ of water from the river. At that point in time, Karnataka was releasing only 5.6 km³ of water to the feuding neighbor.

Protests erupted in the state of Karnataka, with a state-wise bandh called by the Kannada Rakshana Vedike, a self-confessed pro-Kannadiga group, supported by 30-odd powerful trade unions. The bandh steeped into sectarian violence, with every social entity,  from corner kiosks to million-dollar information technology enterprises, being shut down. Air and train services were disrupted, buses were burnt, bringing the state to a standstill. While the political games continued, monsoon came to the rescue of Tamil Nadu, putting an interim break to public agitation over the issue.

Nine years have passed and the stalemate continues, with both the states refusing to budge or give in. After reassuming power for the second consecutive time, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa filed a petition on behalf of the state in August this year with the Supreme Court, urging Karnataka to release water as per mandate. The Supreme Court (SC) in response to the petition ordered that Karnataka release water and said that the Karnataka government should “live and let live.” Karnataka, though dissatisfied, complied with the order and started releasing water, but on the other hand, pressure from the political circles and the public mounted.

The Karnataka Chief Minister Siddharamaiah filed a petition with the SC to stay the order. While the SC refused to stay the order, it reduced water to be released from 15,000 cusecs to 12,000 cusecs. This leads to a repeat of 2007.

Mobs attacked businesses with Tamil Names in Bengaluru. Over 30 busses of the private bus operator KPN were burnt down. Violence also erupted on the Bengaluru-Mysuru Highway.

“The first incident of arson was reported from NICE road, Electronics City around 11.30am when miscreants set a goods truck of Tamil Nadu registraion on fire. Four more trucks, all from Tamil Nadu, were set ablaze in Nayandanahalli Junction and a mob attacked policemen who tried to stop them,” read a Times of India report. In retaliation, the police opened fire, and two people have reportedly lost their lives in the violence that ensued.

The Central government sent around 1,000 anti-riot personnel and around 10 companies of Border Security Force and Indo-Tibetian border police to both the states. While Siddharamaiah and his counterpart J.Jayalalithaa wrote angry letters to each other, Section 144 was imposed in Bengaluru city, Mandya, Mysuru, Srirangapatna and near four dams in the Cauvery basin.

On the other side of the border, people from Karnataka were mobbed, businesses operated by people from the state vandalized. Memes and posts against Sandalwood actors went viral, and petrol bombs were hurled at a popular restaurant under the Udupi banner in Chennai.

Over the years, nature of monsoon alone has given the people from both the states a break from continuing the violence. Important questions arise from this socio-political issue that has created an “uneasy disposition” in both the states. History traces those incidents of mob violence as uncontrollable only when it has been planned by institutions of authority. Are the parties in power refusing to sit down to settle the stalemate, in a bid to gain political sympathy?

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