Water Woes – Interlinking of Rivers can be a solution

There is a great amount of sensitivity involved in water disputes arising out of river blockades caused due to the erection of dams and reservoirs as well as due to lack of strict adherence to river water sharing treaties. South Asia is home to a number of water sharing disputes.

When it comes to Pakistan, the single largest foreign policy issue for them in relation to India after the Kashmir dispute is that of water sharing wherein they accuse India of trying to create a drought-like situation in the country by building massive dams across rivers thereby stopping the entry of water into Pakistan’s territory. India levels same kind of charges against China but the crux of the matter is that apart from our water sharing disputes with our neighbours, we are facing a number of feuds taking place within the nation as well. States have been feuding with one another since a long time over this issue. The warpath doesn’t seem to come to an end. When the year began, we saw an ugly brawl taking place between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the issue of the Mullaperiyar Dam and these days we are witnessing the escalation of the problems associated with the Cauvery row between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Instead of going into the intricacies of both the disputes, I would merely state that the simple solution to these water woes is the urgent and necessary implementation of the project of inter-linking of rivers, an ambitious project which was envisaged for the first time during the 70’s, brought back to life by the NDA government following a mentioning of the same in President Kalam’s Republic Day Speech and put in the cold storage by the UPA government for the sake of cheap political considerations.

The aim of this project was to interlink all the rivers flowing across the nation and help member states by diverting river water from water sufficient states to the ones who were suffering from deficiency of water. Some states objected to this as they held it to be in violation of the doctrine of federalism as water happens to be a state subject but in a recent Supreme Court judgement, the apex court ruled that national interest was well over regional considerations and the principle of federalism. The Supreme Court directed the Central Government to take steps to implement the interlinking project urgently in the interest of the nation but till now no substantial steps have been taken in this direction merely because of the fact that this happens to be a long term project which would not yield immediate political gains but would rather be very costly on the incumbent government as it would lead to wide scale displacement of people and massive agitations which this UPA government is not in a position to handle. So till the time a powerful government arrives at the centre, we can expect our water woes to continue as the project of interlinking of rivers would continue to lie in cold storage.

Lessons to be learnt by the Congress from the MCD Elections

The outcome of the MCD elections has once again established the fact that the Congress is in complete disarray and needs to undergo a magnanimous rejuvenation in order to regain a commanding political position all across the country. The results were a major boost for the Bhartiya Janata Party who looks all set to give the incumbent UPA Government at the Union level a tough fight in 2014.

The electoral route of the Congress in the municipal elections of Delhi has sent a very subtle and clear message. It’s a vindication of the fact that the voter dislikes desperation. In Mumbai, during BMC elections, the Congress went in for an alliance with the NCP in order to beat the unbeatable Sena-BJP combine. The move turned sour and Sena-BJP retained their stronghold. In UP, Congress raked up the minority quota issue days before the polling began. It proved to be highly detrimental and drowned Rahul Gandhi’s high-octane campaign. Similarly in Uttarakhand, BJP replaced Ramesh Pokhriyal with BC Khanduri months before the elections in the State and made him the face of the campaign. This miffed the voter and the BJP was voted out of power. In Manipur, three-month long economic blockade and withdrawal of AFSPA were big issues and the mood in the State was such that the Congress Party was facing a possible drubbing but the Opposition made one mistake when it formed a United Front which involved all sorts of parties including BJP, Left, TMC, NCP etc from left, right and centre. This move triggered a vote change and the votes fell in favour of the Congress. Such trends are indicative of the fact that voters simply hate moves taken with the intention of short term electoral gains.

During MCD elections, the Congress’s move to trifurcate the body was seen as an electoral ploy and hence the party got rejected. This move was done with the intention of weakening the body and ensuring Congress’s triumph in at least one body but the result achieved was disastrous. The trifurcation gave the BJP an opportunity of accusing the Congress of overreach. Now this has been one issue in regard to which the BJP has been constantly attacking the Congress. It has accused the Congress of transgressing limits, thwarting the federal structure and dishonouring separation of powers between different institutions during debates on several issues. By trifurcating MCD, Congress handed over the BJP a natural advantage. The only plus point for the Congress was that it improved its total tally whereas BJP’s tally went down.

Secondly, the results resonated the anti-Congress mood in the country. Generally, it’s the Opposition which attacks and the Government which responds but due to the Congress led UPA’s hapless performance at the Central level, wherever the Congress party is in principal Opposition it becomes an Incumbent vs Incumbent election. The Centre sponsored anti-incumbency wave is huge. National issues get dragged into local elections and the Incumbent Government gets a chance to lambast at the Congress because of its poor showing at the Central level.

Thirdly, Congress is suffering from a serious dearth of leadership. It is because of this leadership crisis that it has to field its heavyweights and star campaigners instead of grassroots leaders at the local level. BJP merely relied on local leaders and party workers during its campaign trail and these very leaders helped in ensuring the campaign’s success. INC was banking on leaders like Dikshit and Sibal, both of them had no relation with MCD and predictably, their efforts went in vain. The writing on the wall is clear, UPA is weakening and NDA is gaining ground. Presently, NDA is better placed to win more number of seats in 2014 General Elections than the disintegrating UPA but it still doesn’t seem to be anyway near the magic figure of 273. Regional parties will hold the key in the forthcoming General Elections. BJP-led NDA is doing really well. All it needs to do is to continue its assault on the Central Government and weave in a few more alliance partners. NDA needs to fight the next general elections under united leadership. That would ensure 20-25 more seats for it which would end up as the game changer. Naming of a polarizing figure like Modi would rob NDA of a significant number of seats since that move wouldn’t be seen as secular by the electorate. This doesn’t mean that Mr Modi cannot become the PM. He can be projected as PM alongside other possible candidates like Jaitley and Swaraj. If NDA gets the requisite numbers then the decision can be taken by the elected legislatures. The Congress needs to do lot introspection and damage control. Till the end of 2010, the Congress skillfully played the victim and made BJP appear like the witch. When the entire winter session was washed out because of the Opposition’s demand for a JPC, it was the Congress which was consoled with and the BJP was criticized by the entire media for converting the Parliament into an agitating forum. But the Congress has been turned into the witch by a slew of corruption charges and the Anna Movement.

What is happening inside Parliament isn’t something new. Similar scenes of disruption were witnessed prior to 2010 but it’s the BJP’s agenda which is dominating the media nowadays. Earlier, when there was a logjam, the BJP was asked as to why it was disregarding Parliament and questions like why there was a need for a JPC. Now, whenever there is a logjam the Congress is asked why it took up this contentious issue just now when there were other issues to be dealt with and why don’t they have their allies onboard. Spin doctors of the Congress need to work overtime in order to ensure that the Congress’s agenda dominates the media. The Congress also needs to go into 2014 General Elections under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. That would ensure an increase of at least 10-20 seats in favour of the Congress because of Rahul’s vast urban following and rural reach in UP. Although, the days of cult and personality politics are over since no leader presently has PAN India acceptability and popularity but Rahul Gandhi is one leader who enjoys PAN India recognition. He couldn’t do any wonders in UP but he will get seats for the Congress at the Union level. So the stage for 2014 is all set, UPA under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership will give a tough fight to NDA fighting under united leadership of its potential prime ministerial candidates.

Ram Sethu Controversy

The Central Government seems to be obsessed and infatuated with the theme of status quoism wherein they try to strategically put every contentious issue into the cold storage. This dodgy behaviour is nothing but an appease-all ploy by means of making concocted committees and coming up with pseudo assurances.

Once again a demand has been made to declare Ram Sethu a national monument, a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram’s army and is considered sacred by Hindus. There’s no need to shelve the Sethusamudram project. An expert panel appointed by the Prime Minister and headed by RK Pachauri has already yielded and submitted a report in favour of executing the project through Dhanuskodi instead of Ram Sethu. Ram Sethu is considered holy by Hindus who constitute an astounding 83% of the population and it would be highly sacrilegious to tamper with an object considered divine by over a billion people.

Karunanidhi was once blasphemous enough to ridicule Lord Ram by saying from which engineering college had he graduated when he was defending the need for his pet Sethusamudram project. This kind of religious torment for the sake of development cannot be accepted in a pluralistic and secular polity. The Central Government should recognize Ram Sethu as a national monument and shouldn’t go ahead with any developmental activity which tampers or amends it in any form.