Mahadayi logjam may continue as BJP returns to power in Goa

BJP’s return in Goa should worry the Congress govt in Karnataka more than anyone else


Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra are locked in a three-decade dispute over sharing waters of Mahadayi river. Photo: PTI
Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra are locked in a three-decade dispute over sharing waters of Mahadayi river. Photo: PTI

Bengaluru: The return of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in Goa is likely to extend the stalemate over sharing Mahadayi river water with neighbouring Karnataka, which goes to polls in 2018.

On Thursday, Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar won a confidence vote, proving his government’s majority in the 40-member legislative assembly.

The Mahadayi (called Mandovi in Goa) originates in North Karnataka and flows to Goa and Maharashtra. The three states are locked in a three-decade dispute over sharing its water, as Karnataka farmers are perennially agitated over a shortage of drinking and irrigation water.

The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka has repeatedly criticised the state unit of BJP for not doing enough to help bring water to North Karnataka, India’s second driest region that is the epicentre of the agitation.

In October 2016, the BJP in Karnataka tried to take charge of the negotiations between the two states eyeing the votes from the vast North Karnataka region, and to push back against criticism against the party for not being able to get an audience with the prime minister in the peak of the Cauvery water dispute with Tamil Nadu. However, it ended with little success.

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Karnataka wants 7.56 tmcft of Mahadayi water for the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project, which would provide drinking water to the parched northern districts which have been facing back to back droughts for the past few years.

Harish Ramaswamy, professor at the Karnataka University in northern district Dharwad says the issue can be resolved only if a political party finds merit to do so in a political context. In the scenario where Congress coming to power in Goa remains unlikely, Karnataka will have to depend on its own 2018 assembly elections to see any progress on Mahadayi, he said over phone.

This should worry the Congress government in Karnataka more than anyone else, he feels, because while seeking re-election in 2018, the state government may have to battle anti-incumbency, while B.S. Yeddyurappa, the chief ministerial candidate of the BJP in Karnataka, has promised farmers to help resolve both the Mahadayi and Cauvery water issues if his party comes to power.

The promise is likely to resonate and translate into votes for many agitating farmers who have accumulated debts after crops failed, analysts think.

Yet, the Congress party will spare no opportunity to remind the BJP of its failure to help negotiate with the previous Goa government led by Laxmikant Parsekar. Inaction during BJP’s 2008-13 term in Karnataka will also be highlighted by the Congress, as BJP leaders in both states did not find a resolution then.

Only time will tell who will best make use of the water crisis. For now, what seems clear is the extension of Mahadayi dispute for at least another year, and becoming an election issue.

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