Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Tuesday told reporters that his government would release water to Tamil Nadu as per the Supreme Court's order "with great difficulty". But Congress sources have told OneIndia that was not what he wanted to say. Rather, he and many of his Cabinet colleagues had decided to defy the top court's order and "go to jail if needed". But all that bravado lasted only until Siddaramaiah met with the party's 'high level' team, who conveyed the high command's order not to do so.
While Siddaramaiah, who hails from the Cauvery basin, and his Cabinet ministers were clearly agitated over the fact that the apex court on September 12, when asked to show leniency to Karnataka considering that it was staring a drinking water crisis, had ordered the state to release even more water than in the earlier order on September 5, and had decided not to obey the court, their tone and tenor changed after the high level meeting.
Inside sources said that even some of the Delhi leaders hailing from Karnataka were in favour of defying the top court, but were bound by the decision of the high command that the party would do no such thing. The high command sent Siddaramaiah the message that the state government had to abide by the court order at any cost.
The Supreme Court had on September 5th directed Karnataka to release 15,000 cases of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu for 10 days. This led to protests and a one-day bandh. Karnataka then filed a plea to modify the September 5 order. However, on September 12, the move backfired and Karnataka was told to release 12,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu everyday until September 20. As a resul, Karnataka now ends up releasing 18,000 cusecs more. This led to violent protests in the state on Monday and a curfew was imposed on Tuesday.
Leaders individually agreed, collectively disagreed:
The violence that rocked Bengaluru and the rest of the state prompted the Chief Minister to ask for a high-level meeting with senior Congress leaders, followed by an urgent cabinet meeting. In the run up to the high-level meeting, the Chief Minister and his colleagues had decided that they would defy the order.
Sources said that Siddaramaiah was even "mentally prepared to step down after defying the court order". Some of his cabinet colleagues had also said they were "prepared to go to jail but not release water to Tamil Nadu".
At the high-level meeting, when the CM and his colleagues informed the Congress leaders from Delhi about their decision, they were told not to go ahead with the plan.
The meeting was attended by Mallikarjuna Kharge, Oscar Fernandes, Veerappa Moily, Margret Alva, among others, who told Siddaramaiah that the high command did not want
a Congress government to be seen defying the court.
Siddaramaiah and others argued that the situation was going out of control in the state and that defying the order would win them the trust of the people. They even tried impressing upon the Delhi leaders that it would help the Congress a great deal in the 2018 assembly elections, especially in the Cauvery basin. While the Delhi group, most of them from Karnataka themselves, agreed with Siddarmaiah's political calculus, they told him they could not defy the party high command.
The Delhi leaders told Siddarmaiah that the Congress was a national party and had to think of the ramifications beyond the state. They also said defying the court would invite contempt proceedings against the state government and raised the spectre of Central rule being imposed by the Narendra Modi government.
The state Congress leaders argued that defying the court order would put the BJP on the back foot in the state politically and therefore it was to Congress' advantage to do so. But the Delhi leaders feared that the BJP would then go to town accusing the Congress of defying the top court of the land and this would hurt the party nationally.
After more than an hour of heated arguments, Siddaramaiah, sources said, finally gave up the plan to defy the court. Instead, the Delhi leaders had suggested to him, Karnataka should continue to pursue the Cauvery issue legally. They also suggested that Siddaramaiah meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urge him to intervene in the matter between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
When Siddaramaiah came before the press on Tuesday, he kept saying repeatedly that the top court's order was "very difficult to implement", but nonetheless concluded that Karnataka would abide by the order.