Water has an uncanny history of inflaming passions in Punjab.
Thursday’s verdict by a five-member constitutional bench of Supreme Court rejecting the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act is yet another watershed in the protracted dispute over sharing of river waters between Punjab and Haryana.
Coming ahead of the Punjab assembly elections expected early next year, the SC’s extraordinarily unanimous stand on the Presidential reference on the Act has resurrected the long dormant but potentially emotive issue.
The Supreme Court’s action has quickly stirred up turbulence in Punjab’s political waters that is set to resonate heavily during a surcharged poll campaign.
In fact, an unfavourable verdict was a possibility that the ruling SAD-BJP government and principal opposition Congress were both anticipating ahead of the SC closure on the Presidential reference that has upheld Haryana’s case and dealt a major legal setback to Punjab’s stand on the dispute.
Not surprisingly, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has lately been upping the ante on his ‘not-even-a-drop-to-spare’ bellicosity. On November 1, he escalated his stand on the water tangle to a new level, asserting that his government will not accept an adverse Supreme Court judgment on the SYL issue — all this in the presence of Union minister Arun Jaitley and BJP chief Amit Shah.
The reference had arisen out of Haryana’s petition challenging the 2004 Act, wherein Punjab had unilaterally annulled all its inter-state river agreements with neighbouring states. The overriding objective of the Act, passed by the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government, was to forestall the SC direction to the Centre to complete the contentious Sutlej Yamuna Link canal to carry Haryana’s share out of Punjab rivers.
The legal tangle has since then been a ticking time bomb. Its eruption has not only uncorked a torrent of political reactions, but also added fire and brimstone to the parties’ competitive pro-Punjab pitch.
In a premeditated and well-choreographed move, Punjab Congress chief and Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh drew first blood by announcing his resignation from the Lok Sabha and that of all 43-odd Congress MLAs from the Punjab assembly. His martyr’s stroke is aimed at buffing up his widely acknowledged credentials as a fighter for Punjab’s interests.
This is the second time that the scion of erstwhile Patiala royalty has resigned from Parliament, taking a moral stand on an issue concerning Punjab and the Sikhs. In 1984, he had quit the Lok Sabha in protest against Operation Bluestar.
And the Akalis, who style themselves as unrivalled champions of Punjab’s interest, were quick to unveil a double-barrel strategy. While keeping their legal option under wraps — that may include a fresh ordinance to scrap the inter-state water treaties — they have sounded the bugle for ‘morcha politics’. Clearly, Punjab is in the throes of a fresh turbulence over water.