Bengaluru: Two months after the announcement, the Karnataka Congress began its much-talked-about ‘Mekedatu’ padayatra Sunday.
KPCC president D.K. Shivakumar, Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah, and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge kickstarted the padayatra from Mekedatu demanding immediate implementation of the balancing reservoir project.
In November last year, the party had officially announced the protest. The Print had reported how the party intends to expose the BJP’s “double engine growth” promise with Mekedatu.
The Congress hopes to walk a distance of 155 km over 10 days covering more than a dozen assembly constituencies during the march. On Saturday, Shivakumar visited two temples, a church and a mosque in Kanakapura ahead of the start of the padayatra. On Sunday, Shivakumar performed pooja at Mekedatu before inaugurating the padayatra.
The padayatra is the latest in a series of joint protests that Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar have undertaken in Karnataka to take on the BJP, even as murmurs of an internal tussle for supremacy between the two leaders are an open secret in the Congress.
It also comes at a time Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Karnataka and the state government has imposed a weekend lockdown. “Let them file all the cases they want. This walk is for the people of Karnataka. A fight for our right to our water. We will take all Covid-19 precautions and adhere to protocol but we will walk,” Shivakumar told reporters multiple times over the week even as questions were raised on the timing of the walkathon.
He added that the government had imposed a weekend curfew with the sole intent of stalling the padayatra.
The ruling BJP, however, termed the march a “political gimmick.”
“This is a political gimmick. At a time Covid-19 cases are rising Congress leaders should reconsider their decision for the welfare of the people,” state home minister Araga Jnanendra told reporters Saturday, adding that anyone violating norms during weekend and night curfew will be booked.
Why the padayatra is beyond Mekedatu
With the Mekedatu padayatra, the party is also hoping to recreate the impact it did in 2010 with the ‘Bellary Chalo’ padayatra. Even those from within the Congress can’t deny the similarities.
“There are similarities, no doubt. That (Bellary Chalo) was an issue of looting of state’s mineral resources combined with political thuggery and this on the other hand is about the loss of state resources due to political incompetence and lack of interest by the government. Bengaluru needs water and we are fighting for it,” Krishna Byregowda, senior Congress leader and former minister told ThePrint.
“Water from Mekedatu will help fulfill Bengaluru’s drinking water needs. BJP is our direct rival in Bengaluru and this issue affects the city but it is more than just politics,” Byregowda added.
The padayatra, while an ambitious project for Shivakumar to assert his leadership — much like Siddaramaiah did during the Bellary Chalo yatra — is also the party’s hook into dominance for Bengaluru.
“In north Karnataka, we have fund crunch, failure of development board, massive unemployment to counter the incumbent party at the state and Centre. Mekedatu is a good issue to go to the people within Bengaluru and its surrounding districts,” a senior legislator and office bearer of Karnataka Congress told ThePrint, adding that the internal power struggle between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar won’t affect the overall impact of the yatra.
Of the total 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru, the BJP, in the 2018 elections, had won 11 seats, Congress 15, and JDS 2. In 2019, the numbers changed when the Congress and JDS MLAs jumped to the BJP. Currently, the BJP has 15 seats, Congress 12 and JDS 1. All three Lok Sabha constituencies of Bengaluru are held by the BJP.
‘Who are they protesting against?’
The BJP is unimpressed with the idea of the padayatra but insists it is nothing like the Bellary Chalo protest.
“Who are they protesting against? They are alliance partners with DMK which is in power in Tamil Nadu. Let them get Tamil Nadu government to withdraw the objection which is stalling the project,” C.T. Ravi, national General Secretary, BJP, said. Given the ground support the Bellary Chalo padayatra generated for the Congress in 2010, the BJP doesn’t see a similar scenario being repeated during Mekedatu padayatra.
“During Bellary Chalo, there was already a build-up in the state with allegations of corruption, Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde’s report, public anger over illegal mining but that is not true this time around. The party is launching a padayatra on a topic that is not public debate,” A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty member at the School of Public Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, told ThePrint, adding that political tussle for Bengaluru may be the underlying intent.
The padayatra will proceed to Vokkaliga dominant assembly constituencies, including Kanakapura, which is represented by Shivakumar. The padayatra is personal to him not only because of the initiatives he took for Mekedatu during his time as water resources minister but also because this is his first mass party movement ever since he took charge as the KPCC president.