WATER BOOSTER
THE WEEK|January 30, 2022
An abruptly ended march might have triggered the Congress’s political redemption in Karnataka
PRATHIMA NANDAKUMAR

When Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, legislative party leader Siddaramaiah and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge beat the nagari (drum) on the banks of the Cauvery at Sangam on January 9, it was a wake-up call for the party cadres. The leaders kicked off a 155km padayatra from Sangam to Bengaluru, demanding speedy implementation of the Mekedatu balancing reservoir project in Kanakapura.

It was also a warning bell to the ruling BJP, and the Janata Dal (Secular), the third major party in the state, as it looked like the beginning of a revival of the Congress in the Old Mysuru region, the Vokkaliga heartland. The BJP and the JD(S) fear that the rally would galvanise the support of the politically significant Vokkaligas, the second largest caste in the state, for the Congress.

A padayatra in 2010 from Ballari to Bengaluru by Siddaramaiah, challenging a “corrupt” BJP government, had catapulted him to the chief minister’s chair in 2013. Shivakumar was hoping to tackle his opponents within the party and outside it with the ‘Namma neeru namma hakku (Our water is our right)’ padayatra. However, on the fifth day of the 11-day march, the party was forced to call it off as the Karnataka High Court rapped the government and the Congress over the massive rallies being held amid the pandemic. “We respect the sentiment of the people and the High Court and the opinion of our legislators. We believe we have a commitment towards the people and as a party that has made many sacrifices for the country, we have decided to sacrifice this rally, too, for the time being. But we will not stop the rally. We will resume it from Ramanagara once it is conducive,” said Shivakumar.

The waters of Sangam, the confluence of the Cauvery and the Arkavathi, have been making political ripples in the state. Interestingly, it has also brought the Old Mysuru region into the spotlight as the new battleground for the next assembly elections, a departure from the state’s Lingayat-centric politics in the past few decades. The region is likely to decide if the BJP or the Congress crosses the majority mark, or the JD(S), once again, becomes the kingmaker.

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