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Directing the course of matters

Directing the course of matters

Given that India routinely reels under water crises and that most of farmers' woes are engendered from the fact that lack of adequate water for crops has a direct impact on their livelihood—and subsequently on the economy—it may be perceived as a good decision in national interest that the Prime Minister promised farmers of Haryana that the river water which belongs to India but is flowing to Pakistan would soon get diverted to the fields of Haryana and Rajasthan for the benefit of agriculture in the state. This was said while addressing a campaign rally at Charkhi Dadri in Haryana for the assembly elections due on October 21. Prime Minister said that "The water which belongs to India was allowed to flow to Pakistan for 70 years...this will not happen now. We will divert the water which belongs to India, it will be given to the farmers of Haryana, water should be given to the farmers of Rajasthan". As a matter of fact, India shares its water with Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty and for many decades, India has allowed its share of water also to go to its hostile neighbour. Matters are bound to take a significant turn with the Modi government now becoming keen to reclaim its share. On the part of the Indian leadership, this move will be one to follow in line with the Modi government's accomplishments such as stopping corruption in government jobs, curbing nepotism, scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and making inoperative Article 370 and creating a nation-wide ripple, buying fighter jest etc., all of which have effectively pleased the general public. Not allowing water to Pakistan and making and making a public claim to begin with is nothing short of a populist move, also given that this is a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be happy with the Kartarpur corridor project that will link India with the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan where the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev died; the project is said to be nearing its completion. Prime Minister Modi's comment regarding the sharing of water with Pakistan, certainly resonates differently on the other side of the border, but seen from India, the point made is that the farmers of Haryana and Rajasthan have the right to the water that is flowing to Pakistan and had not been stopped by earlier Indian governments. "Modi will fight your battle," he assured people at the rally, but this battle is likely to ensue another, bigger one, should matters spiral beyond control.

As matters create waves in Pakistan, the reaction is along rather predictable lines when Pakistan's Foreign Office conveyed that any attempt to divert water flow would be considered an as "act of aggression". Pakistan went on to say that it has "exclusive rights" over three Western rivers under the Indus Water Treaty, and since any attempt by India to divert the flows of these rivers will amount to act of aggression, Pakistan has the right to respond. Tensions between India and Pakistan had escalated dramatically after New Delhi unilaterally revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the northern most state into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, and ever since then, the western neighbour has been unsettled to the extent that it has been frantically trying to mobilise and consolidate international support against India for its internal decision over a state which remains defined by dispute due to an undecided status from historical times. Consequently, Pakistan has severely downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi and has even expelled the Indian High Commissioner. In spite of Pakistan's desperate attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue, India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its "internal matter" and this stance of India has found support from the world at large. With respect to Pakistan, India has been adamant on its stand that "terror and talks cannot go together", bringing the two nations at a dead end of diplomacy. Given this, unilaterally deciding something that will a greater impact on Pakistan in tangible ways—unlike abrogation of Jammu Kashmir's special status which has a political and intangible impact and not much on the ground—is certain to compound matters, especially when talks are withheld due to Pakistan's terror-breeding. The matter of greater concern for India in this regard is that with snapped communication with Pakistan, the neighbour's ally, China is granted a chance to enter the picture. China's dam-building rage is an intimidating one that has come as a grave concern for the whole of the Asian continent. And stands at a vulnerable place given the territorial proximity with China—the country does not believe in equitable water sharing arrangements. The waters of Brahmaputra are crucial for India's eastern region and it is in India's interest to avoid both Chinese domination and water wars. South Asia accounts for about 22 per cent of the world's population but manages with barely 8.3 per cent of the global water resources. There is no substitute for water and it must be understood that water diplomacy has to be an important tool of regional foreign policy. Knee-jerk pre-election announcements to please naive public can have serious consequences.

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