Mahadayi in poll times
Politics is heating up in Karnataka, which is headed for the Assembly elections between April last week and May first week. The Congress is heading the government with 122 seats in the 224-seat state legislature. On Thursday, the state witnessed a dawn to dusk strike by pro-Kannada organisations on the issue of Mahadayi river water. On the same day, BJP president Amit Shah addressed a rally in Mysuru, the home district of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The BJP president accused the Congress government of tacitly supporting the strike in order to disrupt the BJP's Parivartan Rally. The BJP rally, however, saw over 15,000 people gathering at the event. The strike was also successful with most of the cities like Bengaluru and many parts of north Karnataka observing a complete bandh. State and inter-state buses connecting Goa and Karnataka stayed off the roads. Most of the schools and colleges remained closed. So were commercial establishments, pubs and cinema halls. Major IT firms Wipro and Infosys gave their employees a holiday on Thursday. In North Karnataka, Mahadayi is considered as a source of drinking water and irrigation. The pro-Kannada organizations have called for a similar strike on February 4, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits poll-bound Karnataka.
At the rally, Shah said, ''Despite the desperate attempt by the Congress to prevent the holding of this rally, we have been able to hold it successfully.'' He called upon party workers to defeat the Siddaramaiah government in the upcoming elections. Corruption, politics of appeasement and killing of RSS workers figured prominently in his address. "The Siddaramaiah government and all the people they support should know that the martyrdom of our workers will not go in vain,'' he said. Interestingly, actor Prakash Raj, who has been criticising BJP and the Centre ever since the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, too supported the strike call and said, "We Kannadigas have a right to the Mahadayi water".
The Mahadayi river originates in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and flows westwards into Goa in its 111-km long run with 76 km of it falling in Goa. The dispute on sharing this river water in the two sweet-water scarce states dates back to the 1980s, when Karnataka began planning for building dams and canals on this river to store and divert water to other areas in the state, to which the Goa registered its objection. Over the years, the conflict between the two states on the issue only saw an uptick. Successive Goa governments continued their opposition to Karnataka governments' move to build dams and canals on the Mahayadi river through the past decade and moved to the Supreme Court in 2006, leading to the setting up of Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal. While the Supreme Court has stayed the Karnataka government's move to build dams and canals on the Mahadayi, the state demands 7.56 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water from the river to supply it to its farmers in North Karnataka for irrigation. Goa does not concede to Karnataka's demands, saying the state may stock the water in reservoirs and use it for irrigation in other parts of the state.
As the Assembly elections come closer, the fact that the BJP government in Goa is vehemently opposed to giving a free hand to Karnataka on the Mahayadi river water sharing issue has become a rallying point for different sections of people in the state. Also, the fact that the Centre is not able to give any concession to Karnataka on the issue will be pitted against the BJP campaign for the Assembly in the coming months. Karnataka has three distinct regions – North, South and the Coastal belt. Traditionally, North has been a stronghold of the Congress and the BJP has a hold over the Coastal region. BJP president Amit Shah's rally on Thursday in Mysuru falls in the South, which may hold the key to electoral fortunes of the two parties in the state. As 2018 is the year when a number of states will go to polls, the stakes are high for the BJP ahead of the 2019 General Elections. Three North-Eastern states Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, each with 60-seat Assemblies, will go to polls next month. Karnataka's date with the Assembly elections come two months later. Except for Nagaland, where BJP is part of the ruling coalition, the party will try to wrest power mainly from the Congress, which has given a tough fight to the BJP dispensation in the recently concluded Gujarat polls under its new president Rahul Gandhi. The upcoming elections, therefore, promise a direct tussle of nerves between the presidents of India's two biggest political parties.