BJP president Amit Shah will have some explaining to do to the Goan people on his Mhadei promise to the people of Karnataka when he visits the state on May 13 to address a meeting of party booth workers at Panaji. He promised at an election meeting at Nargund, the nerve centre of the agitation for Mhadei waters in Karnataka, that his party would solve the Mhadei dispute within six months if it comes to power. “Every house and every farmland will get water in six months,” he said. It was clearly a promise to sweep the sympathy of the people of the five districts of North Karnataka – Gadag, Bagalkote, Hubballi, Belgavi and Dharwad – who have been fighting for adequate water for drinking and irrigation for the past four decades. The timeline of six months in Shah’s promise for the resolution of the dispute hid the fact that the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal (MWDT) is expected to give its verdict in August. If the verdict goes in Karnataka favour, Shah can take the credit for resolving the dispute well before the timeline!
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also promised to take initiative to resolve the dispute by holding meetings with the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa if the BJP came to power. Here again, the promise came in a speech at Gadag, the key district of popular mobilization for share of Mhadei waters. So, both Modi and Shah chose the right places to deliver the ‘right message’ on the sensitive issue. Media reports suggest that the promises made by Modi and Shah on getting them Mhadei water may swing several seats in the Gadag and other concerned districts of North Karnataka in BJP favour. Opinion polls are predicting a close competition between the Congress and the BJP for securing a majority in 224-member Karnataka Assembly. Every seat matters to either party. The Mhadei water issue is one of those issues in which the BJP sees a potential of getting several seats. About 50 seats in North Karnataka are said to be sensitive to the Mhadei issue; so, Modi and Shah must have calculated, if they could win the larger share of these 50 seats, they would be able to get a BJP government installed in the state. Many of the 50 seats are currently held by the Congress; so the BJP winning the larger share would also mean the Congress losing several seats, thus helping the saffron party to catapult itself into power.
The BJP Mhadei card is an answer to the Congress Lingayat religion card. The BJP, which was expecting a mobilization of Lingayats behind it owing to naming of B S Yeddyurappa as chief minister candidate, feared a split in Lingayat solidarity with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah playing the Lingayat religion card just before the elections. With this card, the Congress hoped to gain considerable support in about 50 seats. The BJP has hit back at the Congress in another cluster of 50 seats with its Mhadei card. However, in the process, the BJP in Goa is finding itself in an embarrassing situation.
Amit Shah, during his visit to Goa, has to make his position clear about how he is going to protect the interests of Goa on the Mhadei water issue. It is not just the speeches made by Modi and Shah during the elections in Karnataka that have caused concerns in Goa. During the past one year, Shah has been seen to be favouring Karnataka in the dispute. It was at his instance that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar wrote a letter to Yeddyurappa about six months ago expressing willingness to hold talks on Mhadei water sharing for drinking. This letter was entirely a political gimmick meant to swing voters’ sentiments in the five dispute-sensitive districts of North Karnataka in BJP favour. Neither Shah nor Yeddyurappa was interested in setting up a state-to-state dialogue between the Siddaramaiah government and the Parrikar government for reaching an amicable settlement on the issue. Shah’s game behind getting Parrikar to write to Yeddyurappa was to help the party’s chief minister candidate go around in the five dispute-sensitive districts and tell the people that the letter showed that the people could hope to get water only if they threw out the Congress and elected the BJP to power in Karnataka.
Amit Shah will have to explain to the Goan people why the BJP is using Mhadei as a football in the election tournament. He will have to explain how he is going to resolve the dispute in six months without any injustice to Goa. He will have to assure them that he will resolve the dispute in six months whether the BJP comes to power in Karnataka or not.