Union home minister P Chidambaram on Saturday termed Kerala's apprehension over safety of the Mullaperiyar dam as "unnecessary" and linked it to "bypoll fear", setting off strong protests from Kerala with chief minister Oommen Chandy saying he would complain to the Congress high command.
"It is an unnecessary fear. It is not even a temporary or a permanent fear. It is only a bypoll fear," Chidambaram said in the midst of the ongoing war of words between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the dam issue.
Chidambaram, who was apparently referring to the upcoming Assembly bypoll to Piravom constituency in Kerala, said the problem would not have arisen if the Election Commission had conducted the bypoll to the seat, suggesting the issue had been raked up for political reasons.
Speaking at a function in Chennai, Chidambaram also said "the dam was built for Tamil Nadu and the water from it is meant for us...for the five districts in Tamil Nadu. If they (Kerala) fear it will collapse, we too have the responsibility to protect it," he said.
Chidambaram's comments drew the ire of leaders of both Congress-led UDF and CPIM-headed LDF from Kerala.
"The first thing that we are going to do is to complain to the high command.We will convey the protest of the Government and the party (state unit) against Chidambaram's statement," Chandy told reporters at Kottayam.
He said Kerala had never taken a "unilateral stand" on the issue without consulting others.
Hitting out at Chidambaram, Kerala water resources minister P J Joseph demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drop Chidambaram from the Union cabinet as his speech amounted to "breach of oath" taken while joining the office.
KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala termed Chidambaram's statement as "extremely unfortunate", while CPI(M) veteran V S Achuthanandan wanted him to be dropped from the Cabinet.
In his remarks at a Chennai function to celebrate the 66th birthday of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Chidambaram said the Supreme Court-appointed Empowered Committee, which is going into the issue, would submit its report by February 2012 and he hoped that the outcome would be favourable to Tamil Nadu.
"Based on the reports of experts and information available, I sincerely hope that a favourable order will be given to Tamil Nadu by Supreme Court...," he said.
Chidambaram said till the apex court gives its verdict on the dam issue by February or March 2012, the people of two states should maintain calm and peace.
"It is the responsibility of the Centre to allay the fears of Kerala people which it will do. Besides, the Centre will also take steps to protect the dam. When these two duties are done, we will get a good verdict. Till then, we need to show maturity and maintain calm...," he said.