City and Elections: Water crisis part of political rhetoric, but makes little impact this election season

Updated - April 19, 2024 05:00 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2024 07:43 pm IST - Bengaluru

Drinking water cans at a rally of BJP candidate Tejaswi Surya at Jayanagar in Bengaluru.

Drinking water cans at a rally of BJP candidate Tejaswi Surya at Jayanagar in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: File photo

The city is going through one of its worst drinking water crisis in recent years, but the issue seems to have found little resonance in the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, though it is a small part of the rhetoric deployed by both the national parties. 

“Both the BJP and the Congress candidates are being questioned on the gaps in infrastructure in our area, as each of these parties are in power in Delhi and Karnataka, respectively. The water crisis and the 2022 floods are part of this larger narrative. However, these are local issues that rarely resonate in a national election,” said Jagadish Reddy, a resident of Varthur - one of the worst hit by the water crisis this summer. 

However, water is part of the larger narrative the BJP and the Congress are deploying for the city. For instance, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently attacked the Sate government over the water crisis and a few cases of cholera being reported in the city and said this was a result of the State government stopping works on Central projects related to water. R. Ashok, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, has attacked the State government for mismanagement of the water crisis and “surrender to the tanker mafia” and said this had hit “Brand Bengaluru”. 

Senior Congress leader Ramalinga Reddy hit back at the BJP saying if there was a balancing reservoir built at Mekedatu, the city wouldn’t have faced such a crisis and the Union government had been withholding permission for the same. The BJP has tried to capitalise on the Congress-led INDIA party DMK’s manifesto in Tamil Nadu opposing the Mekedatu project. 

However, a cross section of politicians across party lines said there were no probing questions by the electorate on the ground over the water crisis when they went campaigning. “One, the crisis is not as big as it is made out to be and two, the government has diffused what could potentially have been a big issue in the city by ensuring drinking water supply and depoliticising the issue,” a senior BJP leader said. 

While Deputy Chief Minister and Bengaluru Development Minister D.K. Shivakumar has been the face of all government initiatives in the city since the Congress government came to power in May 2023, the water crisis is front-ended by Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) chairman V. Ram Prasath Manohar. This was a conscious decision to depoliticise the issue, sources in the Congress said. 

Pressing issues depoliticised

Water conservation activist S. Vishwanath said water, flooding, and other pressing issues of the city rarely become an issue of political contest as there was no differentiator between the parties in the solution sets they offer. “Managing these problems have more or less been depoliticised and bureaucratised,” he said, also adding people were confused as to who to hold responsible in three layer structure of governance for the ills plaguing the city. 

For instance, the BJP internal surveys indicated a big anti-incumbency against then Mahadevapura MLA Arvind Limbavali after the 2022 floods, forcing the party to change the candidate in 2023. It eventually fielded his wife Manjula Limbavali who faced no anti-incumbency and won comfortably. Another constituency that suffered the most due to floods K.R. Puram also re-elected its MLA, who also happened to be Urban Development Minister under the BJP regime.

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