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A Game Of Political Chess In Karnataka

The Karnataka BJP is in a fix: the party state president B S Yeddyurappa’s move to get a letter of assurance from Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar of sympathetic consideration of the neighbouring state’s request for meeting drinking water needs in its northern districts with supply from the Mhadei river has not helped the party turn the resentment of the people of those districts toward the Congress party which is in power. Elections to the Karnataka Assembly are due in a few months and Yeddyurappa had thought of this master move with the blessing of the party’s national president and chief election strategist Amit Shah.  According to the strategy, Yeddyurappa was to write a letter to Parrikar requesting the Goa government to allow water to be drawn from the Mhadei for drinking water purpose for North Karnataka and Parrikar was to reply granting the request without compromising on the basic position of Goa in the inter-state water dispute pending before the Tribunal. Yeddyurappa was to wave Parrikar’s letter to the crowds in North Karnataka to arouse hope among them of the BJP meeting their demand if they were elected to power in the state.

However, Yeddyurappa’s game was cut short by people of North Karnataka. A protest of farmers from the region began outside BJP office in Bengaluru, calling upon Yeddyurappa to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene, and the BJP governments of Goa and Maharashtra to help, in clearing the long-pending drinking water project by building a canal across two tributaries of the Mhadei in North Karnataka, the Kalasa and the Banduri. Yeddyurappa was left red-faced as the farmers refused to withdraw their protest. Yeddyurappa’s argument that he had done his best and got assurance from the Goa Chief Minister and the “ball is now in the Karnataka government’s court” was rejected by them, who accused him of backtracking on his assurance of resolving the issue with Goa. Yeddyurappa then said he would solve the problem if BJP was elected to power. This, instead of pleasing them and filling their hearts with hope, angered them, so much so that they did not allow Yeddyurappa to speak any further and decided to continue with their protest outside BJP office.

Rattled by the failure of Yeddyurappa’s game and farmers protest in front of the party office, the leaders of the Karnataka BJP staged a protest in front of the Congress office in Bengaluru. The BJP officials accused the Congress of politicising the issue as it feared that the credit for the implementation of the Kalsa-Bhanduri project would go to the BJP. Very obviously, the Kalsa-Bhanduri project is caught up in an election campaign tangle between the Congress which wants to retain power and the BJP which wants to gain it.

It is very obvious that people of North Karnataka are being used like pawns in the game of political chess between the BJP and the Congress. There is very little hope of the Kalsa-Bhanduri project being implemented. Yet both the BJP and the Congress are keeping the hopes of the people of North Karnataka alive merely for the purpose of harvesting their votes in the coming election. They have been doing it election after election for years.

The Kalsa-Bhanduri project involves diversion of 7,560 million cubic feet (7.56 thousand mcft) of water from the Mhadei river basin to the Malaprabha river basin. Goa is ready to allow people of North Karnataka living along the Mhadei stream to use its water for drinking purposes. However, Goa is strongly opposed to any transfer of water from the Mhadei to the Malprabha, because it would affect the water availability for Goans and the sensitive ecology of the Western Ghats. Nevertheless, Karnataka started building canals for the Kalsa-Bhanduri project despite Goa’s opposition, and Goa had to approach the Supreme Court to stop them. Even Parrikar’s letter to Yeddyurappa sticks to the protection of core interests of Goa, which is  declaration enough by him that the state was not going to allow Karnataka to do any inter-basin transfer. The letter also does not concede Karnataka’s demand for 7.56 tmcft of water. It only promises sympathetic consideration of the drinking water needs of the people of the state, which presumably could be much less. Goa cannot deny drinking water to people of Karnataka as drinking water as a basic human need is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. However, Goa insists that no inter-basin diversion of water would be allowed to meet that need. That leaves it clear that the Kalsa-Bhanduri project cannot move ahead. But until the next elections, both the BJP and Congress will keep the hopes of the people of North Karnataka alive about getting it going.

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