Bengaluru: Farmers from five districts in North Karnataka sitting on dharna outside the state BJP headquarters over the Mahadayi river water sharing issue called off their strike after five days on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a bandh was observed in these districts, with shops and establishments shut down and inter-state transport was affected.
Their only demand is a quick resolution to the Mahadayi water sharing issue, which would provide them with basic drinking water for the frequently drought-hit districts.
The protesters took out a padyatra from the BJP office to Raj Bhavan to hand over a memorandum to the Governor's office.
Various organisations had extended their support towards the farmers’ protest. But many say with Assembly polls approaching, such endorsements are merely to gain political mileage.
The Mahadayi water sharing dispute between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa has been on the boil for two decades. The river originates in Karnataka's Belgaum before flowing through Maharashtra and Goa, draining out in the Arabian Sea.
The disagreements have primarily been between Karnataka and Goa, with Karnataka demanding a share of about 14 Tmcft of water, of which 7.56 Tmcft is needed for drinking water needs alone.
In July last, the Mahadayi tribunal rejected the Karnataka government's request for the release of 7.56 Tmcft of additional water from the river in order to compensate for the acute water shortage in its north.
The issue gained political limelight when state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa last month assured farmers he would convince the CMs of Maharashtra and Goa (both ruled by the BJP) to hold talks and find an amicable solution within a month. This was one of his assurances during his series of rallies as part of the Parivartan Yatra he is holding ahead of Assembly elections.
That month ended on December 15, and while Yeddyurappa did say that the Goa CM Manohar Parrikar had written to him promising to "consider on humanitarian grounds" the request for drinking water, the letter also said he would not compromise anything out-of-court.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah then wrote to Parrikar on December 22, raising questions on why the latter was communicating with a party head when he (Siddaramaiah) had called him for talks which had been snubbed by the Goa government a few months back. He also said he would again request for a meeting with the two CMs to sort out the issue.
The Congress were also quick to retaliate with KPCC Working President Dinesh Gundu Rao saying that this was an insult to the Karnataka CM. "Instead of writing to his Karnataka counterpart, why would the CM write to the BJP state president?" he asked.
Farmers refused to sway by these assurances and shifted their protest to the BJP HQ. Yeddyruppa tried to meet with farmers' representatives on Tuesday, but was booed away. They also said they were giving representation to the Election Commission to not allow any party to contest the next election, if that party had promised to solve the water-sharing dispute in its 2013 manifesto. However, the decision was reversed on Wednesday and they lifted their dharna.
They blamed all three political parties -- the BJP which has MLAs and MPs in this region but hadn't helped, Congress which is ruling the state but failed to solve the issue, and the JDS which has called itself pro-farmer but failed the farmers of north Karnataka.
The BJP, in a counter-offensive, held protests in front of the Congress office in Bengaluru, blaming the ruling party for politicising the issue. BJP leaders like Shoba Karandlaje, R Ashok, Katta Subramanya Naidu and MLAs from the party shouted slogans and tried to jump police barricades, before being arrested.
In the meantime, BJP national president Amit Shah has scheduled a meeting of the party core committee and will be coming to Bengaluru on December 31, worried over the party's mishandling of the situation.