Is Mahanadi Going Cauvery Way?

Rising tension between Odisha and Chhatishgarh would livelihood of near 16 districts of Odisha people in peril as they emotionally relate the matter with Lord Jagannath


The dispute surrounding the sharing of Mahanadi river water between Odisha and Chhatisgarh has snowballed into a political movement in Odisha with all the three major political outfits stringing in their hopes on the issue to sail through the upcoming panchayat polls. While it has served as a saving grace for the ruling BJD government that has been riddled in controversies, questioning its efficacy in governance in the last 17 years, the two other parties – BJP, surprisingly, and the Congress – are toying with the issue to woo the masses before they cast their votes in early 2017.

Mahanadi is a sensitive issue for the people of 16 districts in Odisha who depend on the river for livelihood. They relate to it emotionally next only to Lord Jagannath and any effort to snatch it from them will have a considerable impact on their lives. So, for the three parties it serves as a major plank to sail through the panchayat polls. The BJD, BJP and Congress, thus, under no circumstance, will let go of the issue before the polls get over and die is cast for 2019 general elections.

The state BJP, which had maintained an unusual silence till now, gained strength under the leadership of Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan when he recently went on to support CM Naveen Patnaik for filing a petition with the central government as per the Section 3(c) of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. His party’s neutral stance (due to BJP-led Chhatisgarh government) on the issue notwithstanding, suddenly found the Mahanadi the right turf to fight the rural poll battle on. So the river also has become an important strategy for the party that had always maintained status quo.

The Congress, almost a loser by now, is busy sorting out intra-party scuffles in all levels and other than meeting Rahul Gandhi at the drop of a hat, the party leaders are just raving and ranting about the ‘wrongdoings’ of the Naveen Patnaik government in the Mahanadi issue. The Leader of Opposition, Narasingha Mishra, who has been in the midst of handling a party crisis in the state, had stated that the longer the Mahanadi issue persists the better are the dividends for the BJD.

Now, the BJD under Naveen Patnaik’s leadership started raising the issue early this year to divert attention from other matters affecting the party’s image negatively. Then it started buying time by way of sending delegations, exchanging letters, organising inter-state meetings, all of which yielded no result. Wary of the fact that the party needed the support of the masses, it started a series of agitations in all the districts to earn back their faith. It is also gearing up to form a human chain soon covering all the 16 districts through which the Mahanadi takes its twists and turns. All this knowing well that the agitations in Odisha will have no impact on the neighbouring state or the Centre.

The party had sounded the bugle that the river will be a major plank for the polls when it started sending a political delegation to Chhattisgarh. The chief minister met hundreds of people at the state secretariat to receive their suggestions and attended the gala send-off programme by thousands before he left for the crucial tripartite meeting in September. However, despite the Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati urging the Chhatisgarh government to stop work forthwith, Raman Singh did not oblige. For the uninitiated, the projects began way back in 2006 and are nearing completion.

After Hirakud Dam project, Mahanadi never got its due attention in the state even though the water resources ministry was directly under the supervision of the chief minister.

Now when much water has already been stalled on the other side of the state boundary, the Naveen Patnaik government, which is struggling with a host of scams and crumbling healthcare system, found  the river dispute as the only issue to win over a majority of people. This strategy, they well understand, has the capacity to take the BJD through the panchayat polls besides helping the party in 2019 general elections. Not only for the BJD, the BJP, which of late has been positioning itself as the second largest party in Odisha by pitching Pradhan as the chief ministerial candidate, is also harping on the river issue to target the masses. Congress, though, is embroiled in disentangling the knots that seem to tighten each day.

Water has always been an issue in Odisha – the excess flooding the state and shortage resulting in drought. As long as the state meets its water needs through the flow of Mahanadi, it should not be politicised to win elections rather be a genuine concern for the good of the state. It’s time the political parties rise above political vendetta and to keep the larger interest of the country, lest Mahanadi will soon take the Cauvery or Sutlej way. After all rivers in India are the biggest uniting factors, let them not be the dividing barriers.