Why this Kaala-Kaveri Di? Tamil Nadu and Karnataka must talk to each other, not talk at each other

I wish Ekta Kapoor, India’s queen of television soap operas, visits Karnataka and Tamil Nadu soon, if not for the fact that she is famous as an expert on the country’s biggest conflict zone – that of the Saas vs Bahu – at least for the fact that a lot that is happening in the two neighbouring southern states start with her favourite letter, K, on which she named many of her early hit mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law serials.

K for Karnataka is witnessing a tussle with Tamil Nadu over sharing the waters of the river Cauvery, and I for one will today abandon my comfort with British-era spellings and call it the local way as Kaveri. Both states are in a state of political ferment, and the river has become a long and winding metaphor for a tug-of-war between them. As if that was not enough, we now have the impending release of Rajinikanth-starrer Kaala, while the superstar is taking tentative steps into Tamil Nadu politics.

Tamil Nadu’s seasoned political hardliners appear to be upset that the other film star who has entered politics in the state, K for Kamal Haasan, has met Karnataka’s new and shaky chief minister, K for Kumaraswamy, and held courteous talks to ensure the release of water from the upper riparian Kannada-speaking state to the lower riparian Tamil Nadu under Supreme Court’s orders. 

Kannada hardliners, meanwhile, do not want Rajinikanth’s politically loaded K for Kaala to be released in the state of Karnataka because he bats now for Tamil Nadu. Kaala is now officially banned in Karnataka.

Rajinikanth, though born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad and of Maharashtrian origin, was once a bus conductor in Karnataka and hence practically a Kannadiga – but is now married into Tamil Nadu in a more than professional sense.

There is a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu after the death of J Jayalalithaa in 2016, and every K for Kazhagam worth its salt is now trying to fill it with the hope of throwing up at least a K for Kingmaker. In the process, taking hardline positions on Tamilian interests has become a fad.

Karnataka, which has just seen the stitching of an uneasy alliance by the Congress and Kumaraswamy’s farmer-friendly Janata Dal (S), is not far behind in a season of political complexities ahead of general elections next year, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is out to prove that it does have a significant influence south of the Vindhyas.

It is all very Kaampetitive, as Donald Trump might say, or Kaamplicated, as a Facebook relationship status might affirm.

But let us take a deep breath now. Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are actually exemplary for the rest of India in showing the way to go on many fronts. The two states between them have India’s richest crop of engineering colleges, close to 1,000 between them. Both are on the world map as powerhouses for emerging technologies and industries ranging from automobiles to artificial intelligence. However, it is not well known that water is a big problem for both states. Karnataka is India’s second most arid state after Rajasthan and much of Tamil Nadu relies on the Kaveri which flows from the south of Karnataka to the north and then the central parts of Tamil Nadu. The river now runs dry in Tamil Nadu, and the political heat is understandable.

Now, consider the strange fact that Bangalore-turned-Bengaluru, Karnataka’s capital is just an hour’s drive from the Tamil Nadu border, and is known as the Garden City. What is not well known is that the gardens were built substantially by Tamilians brought into Bangalore by 18th century ruler Hyder Ali

Given the historic links and modern potential between the two states, we can say Kamal Haasan has done the right thing to break the ice between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – although ice is not the best of metaphors to use in a tussle between two water-scarce states. He is joined by actor Prakash Raj, who is a de-facto politician after the killing of his friend, the left-wing activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh last year in Bangalore. Kamal Haasan has acted in a few Kannada movies while Prakash Raj is a well-known negative role player in Tamil cinema. Prakash Raj has spoken against the Kaala ban in Karnataka, trying to strike a balance between hardline feelings and freedom of expression.

Both these actors deserve some appreciation for trying to strike the middle ground even as career politicians try to enhance the divides between the two states.

Perhaps it is time to invoke the memory of former president APJ Abdul Kalam, a Tamilian who led India’s missile programmes but only after he headed the satellite launch project of Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The missile programme has umbilical links with ISRO, much like the Kaveri that flows from one state to the other.

It is time to ask agitators in both states: Why this Kolaveri Di?. ‘Kolaveri’ is the Tamil word for murderous rage, and became a national word in 2012 after a song sung by Dhanush, Rajinikanth’s Tamilian son-in-law, became a nationwide hit.

The song humorously taunts at pointless anger. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka need to shed that kind of anger and perhaps put to use their famous technological strengths to harness water and design public policies that might benefit both states. Surely you can do that when you can build missiles and satellites together? 

(Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist who has covered politics, diplomacy, business, technology and other subjects in a long career that has spanned organisations including Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent columnist, editor and commentator. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

Also Watch


Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply