When Karunanidhi was battling for life in hospital, one of the messages doing the rounds in What’s App was that ”Karunanidhi fought all his life for Cauvery and now Kauvery is fighting for his life”.
Hailing from Thirukuvalai, a non-descript hamlet when Karunanidhi was born in 1924 ,it was little wonder that he was interested in the struggle for Cauvery. His native place in Tiruvarur is in the composite Thanjavur district in the Cauvery delta region.
It was Mannargudi Ranganathan, a gentleman farmer and secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association who devoted his entire life to the struggle for Tamil Nadu’s just share of the Cauvery water from the upper riparian State of Karnataka.
He was the first to file a suit in the Supreme Court in 1971. Karunanidhi, who was then Chief Minister, impleaded the Government in the suit. However, he withdrew the case under pressure from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who promised to bring out a negotiated settlement.
Till the end, the AIADMK maintained that Karunanidhi betrayed Tamil Nadu by withdrawing the case after Indira promised to drop the corruption cases against him. However, Karunanidhi denied it and said he withdrew the case without prejudice to Tamil Nadu’s interests and only after Indira promised a settlement.
It was Karunanidhi who prevailed upon V P Singh to constitute the Cauvery tribunal in 1989. When it gave its interim award in 1991, the then Karnataka Chief Minister S Bangarappa instigated one of the worst anti-Tamil riots and it was J Jayalalitha as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who saw to it that no harm came to Kannadigas living in the State.
Whenever a crisis erupted in distress years, Karunanidhi negotiated with his Karnataka counterpart to get the needed water . On the other hand, Jayalalitha believed in confrontational approach. It was she who moved the Supreme Court to get the Centre gazette the tribunal’s award in 2007.
Jayalalitha did not live to see the final resolution of the dispute with the Centre constituting the Cauvery River Water Authority. And Karunanidhi was in semi-retirement until his terminal illness took him to the hospital last month.