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In Karnataka, political heat over a padayatra

The Congress launched it’s 11-day padayatra on January 9, 2022.

The Congress launched it’s 11-day padayatra on January 9, 2022.

The Vokkaliga heartland in the Cauvery river basin is witnessing a political slugfest between the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition Congress over the past week as the latter’s padayatra for the Mekedatu drinking water project got underway on January 9 amid COVID-19 concerns. The 11-day padayatra for ‘our water, our right’ is being seen as a poll bugle by the Congress for the Assembly elections a year away. The Congress will pass through 15 crucial Assembly constituencies that have a big Vokkaliga population during the padayatra. Central to the walkathon is the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President, D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga and a strong contender for the chief minister’s post.

The padayatra, believed to be strong optics ahead of elections, the legal and administrative delays in implementing the Mekedatu project notwithstanding, will supposedly galvanise Vokkaliga votes to the Congress. With impressive performances in recent elections to the Upper House and urban local bodies, the Congress has been in an upbeat mood and expects Lingayats to back it in the Assembly polls after Lingayat strongman and former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa was forced to step down by the BJP.

 

The BJP, which has so far failed to make big inroads into the Cauvery basin districts, seems to be on the back foot. A recent public function attended by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai saw a Congress MP and a senior cabinet minister coming close to blows on the dais. The function itself was seen as a political attempt by the BJP to nullify the effect of the padayatra through the launch of development schemes.

The Mekedatu ‘balancing reservoir’ in Kanakapura taluk of Ramanagaram district close to the Tamil Nadu border has remained contentious. The project for the balancing reservoir to impound about 67 tmc ft. of excess water and generate power started getting shape after the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal award was notified in 2013. A ₹9,000-crore detailed project report (DPR) was submitted in 2019. While Tamil Nadu, the lower riparian State, got a stay from the National Green Tribunal bench in Chennai, the principal bench in Delhi vacated the stay, which has been questioned in the Supreme Court now.

The BJP and Congress have been sparring over the project. Terming the padayatra a “political gimmick”, Mr. Bommai accused the Congress of delaying the submission of a DPR. The government also released documents to prove the delay during the Congress regime. The Congress, on the other hand, has been blaming the BJP’s desire to expand its footprint in Tamil Nadu as the reason for delay in according sanction to the project by the Centre. The party has also been saying that having BJP governments at both the Centre and State have not helped Karnataka’s cause.

 

Meanwhile, the JD(S), which draws its political strength from the Vokkaligas and is in a direct fight with the Congress in the Old Mysuru region comprising Cauvery basin districts, has remained muted. Only its leader H.D. Kumaraswamy has taken potshots at the padayatra. For, any upswing in Congress votes in the region could damage the party politically since it is already struggling to remain relevant in the State’s politics.

Also read | Karnataka Government weighing the options to handle Mekedatu padayatra

The State government has so far been unable to prevent the padayatra from rolling on. Worried about Congress claiming sympathy if the padayatra is stalled, the government has only lodged FIRs against Congress leaders . Only after the Karnataka High Court rapped the government on Wednesday after hearing a PIL has the government issued an order banning inter-district (Karnataka) and intra-district (Ramanagaram) movement of persons and vehicles for the purpose of participating in the padayatra. The Leader of Opposition has announced that Congress will abide by the court’s decision.

sharath.srivatsa@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | May 21, 2022 6:35:54 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-karnataka-political-heat-over-a-padayatra/article38261439.ece