IT was a city on the river Yamuna, not very far from the present day Delhi. A blind king sat on the throne. His deceased brother’s five sons wanted their share in the kingdom. But the blind king was dilly-dallying. Interceding on their behalf, a friendly king suggested in the royal assembly that the five brothers should at least be given a village each. Reacting sharply to this legitimate demand, the eldest son of the blind king stood up and said: “Five villages, did you say? We shall not give them land equal to a needle’s head even!” We all know the story. It’s called Mahabharata.
I had a sense of déjà vu and was thrown back into those olden times when I heard Punjab Chief Minister Badal say in the Assembly: “Punjab doesn’t have any spare water. We shall not give even a drop of water to Haryana.” I thought I was hearing the echoes from Mahabharata. The similarities are striking. Over 3,000 years ago Kauravas and Pandavas had inhabited these very territories and had fought the epic battle over them. Indeed, Haryana shares a Kaurava-Pandava type relationship with Punjab — it was a part and parcel of Punjab state at Independence and was carved out as a separate state in November 1966 on Punjab’s reorganisation. They are siblings; their common assets, liabilities and properties were divided between them in the ratio of their population — 60:40. Now the fight is over water.
Chief Minister Badal’s illustrious predecessor Amarinder Singh had shown similar arrogance in 2004 and had unilaterally abrogated Punjab’s water sharing agreements with Haryana and other states, although he was among the principal cheerleaders of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she had laid the foundation stone of the selfsame carrier channel at Kapuri village in Punjab in 1982. That was an outrageous constitutional coup. The President of India had made a reference to the Supreme Court about it and one would have thought the matter would soon be evened out. However, no one paid it the attention it deserved and it has remained like a festering sore in the body politic of the nation. This had indeed emboldened Badal to outdo Amarinder Singh in political chicanery and indulge in saber-rattling and one-upmanship with his eyes on winning the elections which are due next year.
Badal has since passed a Bill undoing the construction of the channel meant to carry Haryana’s share of water to the state. He has denotified the acquisition of land and has given a green light to the people to demolish the 120- km-long canal. But water is a matter of life and death for the people of the two states and inflaming their passions on this sensitive issue is like playing with fire.
The doting Dhritrashtra did not restrain his errant son Duryodhana. Only Bhishma, the venerable grandfather of the warring siblings, could perhaps avert the tragedy of fratricidal bloodbath. Only he could speak in the voice of authority and sanity and goad them to play fair by each other. But he too kept quiet. In the present context, it is the Supreme Court which has to restrain the power-hungry knights errant, show the light of justice and instill a sense of fair play in the people of the two sister states. The very unity of the nation is at stake.
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