Water wars: Can Narendra Modi do an Indira Gandhi on the SYL issue?
As the issue of sharing of Punjab's river waters t the takes centre stage in the state's politics, there is a question doing the rounds that pits present Prime Minister Narendra Modi against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
With a section of the population seeing both as people with 'authoritarian' tendencies, what is being debated is - can Modi do what Indira managed to do almost four decades ago when she got the warring chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to sign on the dotted line on an agreement, particularly for construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.
Observers point out that the political scenario for Indira was pretty similar to that where Modi stands today. In 1976, the time of the first agreement, it was the Congress ruling these states. Banarsi Das Gupta was the chief minister of Haryana, Haridev Joshi of Rajasthan and Giani Zail Singh of Punjab.
When the second accord was signed in 1981 in which Punjab's water share was slightly enhanced, Darbara Singh was the chief minister of Punjab, Bhajan Lal of Haryana and Jagan Nath Pahadia of Rajasthan.
Indira had gotten the chief ministers to withdraw their cases filed in the Supreme Court before the first agreement was signed
At present, the BJP is ruling both Haryana and Rajasthan while it is also in power in Punjab in an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). There are BJP chief ministers Vasundhara Raje and Manohar Lal Khattar in Rajasthan and Haryana respectively while Parkash Singh Badal holds the chair in Punjab with BJP being represented in his cabinet.
With the main political parties in Punjab - the Congress, SAD and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - and Haryana - the Congress, the BJP along with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) - adopting a very hard stance over the issue, the relations between the two states are under tremendous strain.
After the recent Supreme Court decision on a presidential reference on SYL that went in favour of Haryana, all the political parties in poll-bound Punjab are taking the line that Punjab's waters will not be shared since the state has no water to spare. The parties in Haryana want the SYL canal to be built at the earliest and want the work to be done under the supervision of the Centre.
It is at this juncture that the people are discussing that if Indira Gandhi could get the three states to resolve the matter out of court just on the basis of the hold she had over her party, no matter that signatories later complained of being forced to sign the dotted line, why can Modi not take such an initiative given the fact that he is seen as an unchallenged leader within the BJP.
Observers are of the opinion that in any case the Supreme Court, through its recent judgement, has put the ball in the Centre's court even as fresh applications have been made on behalf of the states involved.
Playing it safe
Professor Gian Singh, a renowned agriculture expert at Punjabi University Patiala feels that Modi's intervention at this level does not suit him politically.
"No matter in whose favour he decides in, his party will witness major political reversals in the other states. The best option for him is to let matters get resolved through the courts and he can say that he is just following legal orders," said Singh.