Bengaluru: Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Karnataka unit president B.S. Yeddyurappa on Wednesday said that the party will call for a bandh during Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s scheduled visit to the state in February, if the latter does not clarify his stand on the Mahadayi (also known as Mandovi) river dispute.
Yeddyurappa’s statement comes at a time when pro-Kannada organisations across Karnataka have called a statewide bandh on 25 January and 4 February over the Mahadayi water-sharing issue to pressure the centre into intervening in the matter.
The BJP alleges that the two dates chosen for the bandh (25 January and 4 February) coincide with Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state.
Speaking in Kodagu district—about 250km from Bengaluru—Yeddyurappa said that Gandhi should clarify his stand on Mahadayi failing which the BJP will call for a bandh in every district that the Congress president is scheduled to visit.
While the Congress party has given its tacit support for the bandhs, BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) have—individually and for different reasons—called it a political game by the former.
Heading into elections, all three political parties have tried to champion the cause of Cauvery and Mahadayi to gain favour with voters in the state. The BJP faced a severe backlash from farmer groups after the party tried to play the ‘water card’ to gain support of voters in north Karnataka, a region that has favoured the saffron party in previous elections.
The Karnataka government has requested the release of 7.56tmcft of Mahadayi water to supply to 13 towns of Dharwad, Belagavi, Bagalkot and Gadag districts. The Mahadayi river originates in Karnataka and flows for around 35km in the state. Karnataka wants to build canals to link its tributaries—Kalasa and Banduri—to divert water to the Malaprabha river basin. Goa has opposed this on the ground that it would be harmful to the ecology of the Western Ghats.
Farmers in north Karnataka have been protesting for almost three years over the issue. But protests gained intensity after Yeddyurappa claimed to have achieved a major breakthrough in the dispute during an election rally in Dharwad on 21 December. This was followed by allegations by Goa Congress chief Vinod Palyekar that Karnataka was trying to divert water from the river, in contravention with the tribunal’s last orders, sparking protests in both states.
“@siddaramaiah may score some cheap political brownie points by organising these bandhs, but what about lakhs of daily wage workers who would have to starve because of CM’s treacherous political gimmicks? #CMBehindBandh," the state unit of the BJP said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Siddaramaiah has maintained that he has written to Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar and sought the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve the crisis, but to no avail—reasons he uses to target the BJP’s lack of interest in resolving the issue.
Many organisations have supported the bandh on Thursday, but many others are steering clear of it as well. Mostly due to the inconvenience caused including cases of stone pelting, damage to private and public property. Though transport unions have not officially backed the bandh, any untoward incidents could halt services. Some schools and offices are expected to remain shut in Bengaluru as well, even though the bandh is expected to have a bigger impact in parts of north Karnataka than the southern regions.
Law enforcement authorities, however, are taking no chances and will be on strict vigil across the state, according to home minister Ramalinga Reddy.
Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnatak University, Dharwad said that the BJP is trying to scuttle the Congress party’s attempt to gain an upper hand in the issue. “BJP is ruling in Goa and we are heading into elections. If they (Karnataka BJP) concede, Congress will gain momentum," he said.