Emboldened by their emphatic win in the Karnataka urban local body polls, and after bagging 11 seats in the Legislative Council elections, the Opposition Congress is planning to go ahead with its plan for a 100-km ‘padyatra’ from Cauvery River to Bengaluru after a week. But, along the way, the Congress unit in the state has also exposed the internal squabbles within the party.
The major purpose of this march, which is to be led by the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar who is eyeing the Chief Minister’s chair in the assembly elections due in April-May 2023, is to force the BJP government to bring Cauvery water from Mekedatu to Bengaluru.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (TN) have been engaged in a face-off over the proposed 9,000 crore Mekedatu project, a reservoir of 284,000 million cubic feet (TMC) capacity to be built over the Cauvery river. Karnataka’s plan is to build this dam in Mekedatu (which is closer to TN) to conserve water during floods and use the water to solve Bengaluru’s water woes. It is also expected to irrigate the parched lands in some districts of old Mysore region and the potential to generate around 400 MW of hydroelectric power.
According to the Congress, once implemented, the project is expected to benefit a population of about 2.5 crore in 10 districts besides bringing down pressure on other reservoirs in the Cauvery basin. Currently, only 30 per cent of Bengaluru is receiving Cauvery water but once the project comes up, it is expected to address drinking water woes in Bengaluru, Kolar and Chikkaballapura districts.
However, TN has repeatedly opposed the Mekedatu project. Their stand is that when Karnataka already has adequate infrastructure for drawing drinking water to meet the demand of Bengaluru Metropolitan area even now, the justification of the need for a reservoir with a storage capacity of 67.16 tmc ft to utilise 4.75 tmc as drinking water is not acceptable.
The Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai, who has repeatedly declared that he will implement the Mekedatu project despite TN’s objections, has dismissed the Congress’ padayatra as a “desperate Congress” trying to play politics over it.
He told the media the BJP-led government was not perturbed by TN’s protest against the dam and that they were doing their best to build a dam at Mekedatu “We are not worried about Tamil Nadu’s objections. We will fight it out legally,” he said, according to media reports.
Calling the Congress “a divided house”, he pointed out that the one-upmanship of DK Shivakumar is on display. “They (Congress) coming back to power is just a dream”, he said.
Meanwhile, the chinks in the Congress camp became visible as the planned march to Bengaluru seems to have upset the Opposition leader and former CM Siddaramaiah. The fact that Shivakumar is entering the Mysore region, which is considered to be his fiefdom, has rattled the Congress leader.
However, despite publicly hitting out at Shivakumar for planning the march without consulting him, Siddaramaiah backed down and agreed to lead the march along with his party colleague.
And Siddaramaiah turned his ire on the BJP alleging that they were putting up a front of supporting the project. Siddaramaiah told a news website that the Karnataka BJP were actually against the project and encouraging their TN unit president K Annamalai to fight against it. But they have been exposed, said Siddaramaiah adding that once the Congress assumes power in the state, they would implement it.
Shivakumar also shared that tens of thousands of party workers and commoners will walk along with the Congress leaders in the padyatra. This will also help to motivate the party cadres across old Mysore region.
Many news reports quoting political observers said this padayatra is being helmed by DKS to achieve his dream of becoming the Karnataka CM. Any Opposition leader who took out a ‘padyatra’ before an assembly electios had become the CM. Moreover, Shivakumar was also targeting to his main rivals in the region, the Janata Dal (S).
The ‘padyatra’ will start from Mekedatu, which is 170km away from Bengaluru, on January 9 and is expected to reach the state capital after ten days. It will pass through Kanakapura, Ramanagaram and Bidadi before culminating in Bengaluru.