Prime Minister Narendra Modi has blamed the former Congress president Sonia Gandhi for having said at an election meeting in Margao in 2007 that Goa would not share the waters of the Mhadei river (known as Mahadayi in Karnataka, and as Mandovi) with Karnataka. He made the statement at an election meeting on Saturday in the Malprabha region, whose farmers and other residents have been fighting for diversion of water from the basin of the Mahadayi river to the basin of the Malprabha river. Goa and Karnataka have been engaged in a long legal battle at the Mahadayi Inter-state River Water Disputes Tribunal as well as the Supreme Court over the diversion issue. Karnataka had gone ahead and drawn up a proposal for diversion and sanctioned funds to implement it by constructing the civil engineering works required for it. It was after Goa’s petitioning to the Supreme Court that the construction works were stopped.
Prime Minister Modi might have gained a point with the people of the Malprabha region, but has in the bargain earned displeasure of the Goan people. By referring to the former Congress president’s statement assuring protection of Goa’s interests on the river water sharing issue, Modi might have dented the Congress image in Karnataka but he has unwittingly given a booster to the Congress in Goa. Not long ago, a controversy was created with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar writing a letter to the BJP Chief Minister candidate in Karnataka B S Yeddyurappa assuring him that the Goa government was open to negotiations for an amicable settlement of the Mhadei issue. The letter was obviously given with an eye on Karnataka elections. BJP President Amit Shah convened a meeting at Delhi at which Yeddyurappa and Parrikar were invited. Yeddyurappa had been pleading with Amit Shah to have such a letter from Parrikar, so that he could go to the meetings in the Malprabha region and assure the people there that if the BJP came to power in Karnataka it would be easier to solve the Mhadei river water sharing issue as there was a BJP government in Goa too.
However, the letter proved counter-productive. Although Parrikar gave Yeddyurappa the letter he did not actually concede any point to Karnataka. He very clearly hinted that Goa was ready for talks within the restrictions of laws and its own interests. All that Parrikar said, (something that he took pains to inform the Goan people through the media later) was that Goa would not mind people of Karnataka taking water for drinking purposes along the banks of the Mhadei river. Parrikar had kept to the line in accordance with the constitutional provisions and Supreme Court judgements which held that drinking water was a fundamental right which cannot be denied to people. After all, people living along the banks of the Mhadei river, as in the case of other rivers, had always used river water for drinking and bathing purposes, and these rights cannot be denied to the people of Karnataka. However, Parrikar had not in his letter in any way compromised on the interests of Goa as far as the diversion of the Mhadei water from the basin of the Mhadei to the basin of the Malprabha was concerned. The diversion remained the main dispute between the two states at the Mahadayi Inter-state River Water Disputes Tribunal, Goa being totally opposed to it.
It is hard to say how much ground the BJP will gain in the Malprabha region of Karnataka with Prime Minister Modi’s statement portraying the Congress black on the Mhadei issue and promising that an amicable settlement would be reached between the concerned states once the BJP came to power. Perhaps Modi forgot that Yeddyurappa securing a letter from Parrikar did not help the BJP gain much ground in Karnataka. As a matter of fact, farmers and others of the Malprabha organized meetings and sit-ins outside BJP offices including the office of Yeddyurappa to demand concrete action on the basis of the assurance of Goa’s Chief Minister. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah put the BJP in a quandary by writing to Prime Minister Modi for calling a tripartite meeting of the three parties in the Mhadei river water dispute, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra for reaching an amicable settlement. The farmers and other residents of the Malprabha region started putting pressure on Yeddyurappa to use his good offices to persuade the Prime Minister for holding the tripartite meeting. When their demands were not met they spoke out against the BJP in the media, bringing further embarrassment to the BJP.
When at a later date Prime Minister Modi comes to Goa to campaign for his re-election in 2019, he might regret in retrospect of having spoken against Goa’s interests in the Mhadei water sharing case.