The Congress in Karnataka has declared war against the ruling BJP government, daring it to stop the main opposition party’s padyatra (march) for Cauvery water scheduled to start on January 9.
With the Omicron-triggered rise in Covid-19 cases, the state government has banned all public gatherings and protest marches for the next two weeks, reintroducing night and weekend curfews across the state.
Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah are scheduled to lead the march to Bengaluru demanding that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai-led government should bring Cauvery water from Mekedatu to the parched megapolis bursting at the seams. The duo has declared that only the two of them will walk to Bengaluru if the Covid-19 guidelines stand in the way of the padyatra.
On Thursday, Home Minister Araga Jnanedra served an ultimatum to Congress leaders, asking them not to go ahead with the march. Speaking to the media, he said, “I am asking them to drop the idea or postpone it. Coronavirus is spreading again and their padyatra might cause havoc. If they don’t listen to us or follow the law, we will be forced to enforce it strictly.”
Hitting back at Jnanedra, DK Shivakumar said there was no question of cancelling or postponing the padyatra and the minister was free to do “whatever he wants”.
“I know the Home Minister well. Who is he to threaten us? We are not scared of anyone. We will walk from Cauvery river in Mekedatu to Bengaluru as planned earlier. There will be no violation of Covid-19 guidelines. We are taking all precautions,” Shivakumar said.
Siddaramaiah has said that there is no bar on only two people walking on the road. “Only Shivakumar and I will walk for 10 days. There is no need for our party workers and others to join us. It is organised by the Congress party. But, we are inviting everyone to join us. We don’t want to go against the rules. But, a scared government is using illegal methods to harass us. We are not scared of them or anyone,” the former CM said.
CM Bommai has requested the Congress to respect Covid-19 guidelines and postpone or cancel their march. “I am observing everything. If the Congress goes ahead with its plan, suitable action will be taken at an appropriate time,” Bommai said.
JDS president and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, too, has questioned Siddaramaiah’s commitment, asking why he did not implement the project when he was the chief minister for five years.
The JDS is jittery over Shivakumar entering and strengthening his base in the stronghold of Gowda clan.
Mekedatu is closer to the Tamil Nadu border and Karnataka is planning to build a dam there to conserve water during floods. It aims to bring the same water to Bengaluru, over 100 km away, and irrigate the parched lands in some districts of old Mysore region. Tamil Nadu has already gone against the proposed dam and the matter is being heard by the Supreme Court.
CM Bommai has maintained that his government is committed to implement the Mekedatu project and has accused the Congress of playing politics over it.
Political observers see chief ministerial ambitions behind Shivakumar’s decision to go ahead with the march. They argue that almost all opposition leaders who took out a padyatra closer to elections won the battle for the CM’s throne. Another political aim of the march could be to weaken his main rivals in the region, the Gowda clan.
The padyatra is scheduled to be flagged off at Mekedatu on January 9 and expected to reach Bengaluru on the 10th day thereafter.
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