Even as the Congress carries out a 10-day ‘padyatra’ in Karnataka, demanding implementation of the Mekedatu project across the Cauvery river, the party’s state president D K Shivakumar was seen refusing to take a Covid-19 test late Sunday, after the event for the day had concluded.
Arguing with the District Health Officer who had come to collect his sample, Shivakumar said he was ‘fit and fine, and did not need a test’. The leader further alleged that health officials were acting on the instructions of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who had earlier warned of action for violating Covid norms by conducting the march.
“Rey mister, I am fit and fine,” he told the official.
The Karnataka BJP had slammed the Congress on Sunday for its Mekedatu padayatra and shared a purported video of state Congress chief DK Shivakumar coughing, branding the Congress a “superspreader.” “Watch Congress president DK Shivakumar cough in public during his phoney protest against the Mekedatu dam. He appears to be suffering from Covid-19 symptoms, but he is still interacting with Congress employees without a mask. Is he hell-bent on increasing the number of Corona cases? “Karnataka BJP’s official Twitter account tweeted.
Led by Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly Siddaramaiah, the padayatra with the theme ‘Namma Neeru Namma Hakku’ (Our water, Our right) began at Sangama, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavathi rivers at Kanakapura in Ramanagara district, and will be spanning a distance of nearly 139 kms.
However, Siddaramaiah who took part in the march earlier on Sunday, returned to Bengaluru post lunch, due to fever, and is likely to go back once he is fine, party sources told PTI.
With participation from hundreds of workers, leaders and cultural groups, the principal opposition party in the state remained unfazed by the government’s warning of action in case of violation of COVID restrictions and rules. The government has imposed curfew on weekends and restricted public gatherings to fight the surge in COVID-19 cases, till January 19. It has also imposed night curfew, and prohibited all rallies, dharnas and protests, among others.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, former Chief Minister M Veerappa Moily, and several
senior party leaders and legislators were present at the inaugural of the padayatra, that covered a distance of about 15 kms on day one.
A few religious leaders and film personalities like actor Duniya Vijay, actor and music director Sadhu Kokila, were among others seen at the inaugural of the padayatra demanding implementation of Mekaedatu project, to which
neighboring Tamil Nadu is opposed. Projecting it as an apolitical “Walk for Water,” the Congress has invited seers of various mutts, organisations, leaders of various political parties, film personalities, and Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce, among others, to participate in the march.
Accusing the BJP government of trying to scuttle the padayatra, Siddaramaiah during the inaugural speech accused the ruling party of colluding with Tamil Nadu in delaying the implementation of Mekedatu project. Claiming that the project was initiated by the Congress government led by him, he alleged that the ruling BJP has betrayed the people of the state by not getting environmental clearance despite being in power for last 2.5 years, and even accused the central government of not giving clearance, as the J P Nadda-led party wants to expand its base in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
Shivakumar, who is also MLA from Kanakapura, hitting out at the Chief Minister, for trying to “thwart” the padayatra by asking the district administration to issue prohibitory orders, dared him to arrest them if he could.
“This march is not for the Congress party or for the sake of power, it is for the sake of the people…. Like Congress fought against the British then for India’s freedom, today we are fighting against BJP and Janata Dal…. ” he said adding that his party leaders and workers will peacefully march following COVID rules. Wary about the consequences of taking strong action like making arrests or stopping the padayatra, that too on an emotive issue linked to interstate river dispute, the state government seems to have decided to “go slow and soft” on the Congress march in violation of its COVID restrictions.
Bommai, accusing the grand old party of playing politics on the Mekedatu issue, instead of behaving like a responsible opposition said, “a notice has been issued to them and officials have personally advised them against it, but they have neglected it and are going ahead, we will take action in accordance with law.”
Further alleging that the Congress did not put any efforts to take the project forward while in power, he reiterated that his government is committed to implement the project.
The Congress’ march from Mekedatu to Bengaluru, is scheduled to pass through Kanakapura, Ramanagara and Bidadi, before culminating at Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on January 19. It will be covering about 15 of the 224 Assembly constituencies in the state.
Though the padayatra is being projected as apolitical, demanding the implementation of Mekedatu project, it is also seen as Congress’ attempt to mobilise its cadres and consolidate its voter base in the old Mysuru region, which is a Vokkaliga bastion, where JD(S) is its traditional rival and the ruling BJP is attempting to make inroads, ahead of 2023 assembly polls.
With PTI inputs