An otherwise peaceful Karnataka bandh, observed across the state on Friday to protest the Supreme Court order to release of 15,000cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, was marred by violence after the police opened teargas shells and resorted to lathicharge when farmers attempted to picket the Krishnaraja Sagara dam in Mandya.
Some distraught farmers attempted suicide in three separate incidents (by jumping into the river, consuming poison and cutting the abdomen with a blade) but were saved in time. The pro-Kannada groups streamed in to the streets in the wee hours to ensure total bandh while Sandalwood stars took out a padayatra to express their solidarity.
While the roads, bus and railway stations wore a deserted look, the international airport was overcrowded with fliers as even those who had booked evening flights chose to reach the airport at the break of dawn.
Even as the entire state capital shut down to express solidarity with the farmers, a few IT-BT companies who hoped to work quietly got a taste of the public ire. Protesters barged into Manyata Tech Park and created ruckus. Many leisure clubs and lodges were forcibly closed as well.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew his attention to the “extreme unrest” in the Cauvery basin, especially in Bengaluru city following the apex court order. “The unrest will have a serious impact on the state’s economy, especially the IT sector which brings enormous revenue and foreign exchange to the country, besides affecting the life of the common people across the state,” he said.
Urging the PM to call a meeting of chief ministers to resolve the impasse, Siddaramaiah cited precedence of a similar circumstance of deficit water flows in December 1995 when the SC had sought then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s intervention in the matter. The water release was scaled down to 6tmc against a demand of 30tmc made by Tamil Nadu.
“If we continue releasing water, we would be completely depriving our farmers of water...The current storage at Mettur dam in TN and the north-east rainfall will be more than sufficient for the Samba rice crop, which is just being or yet to be sown by TN farmers,” the CM noted.
Pointing out that the BJP had opposed implementation of the SC order during the all-party meeting held on September 6, Siddaramaiah said he, as the executive head of the state could not have defied the apex court orders.
Unhappy with the CM seeking PM’s intervention, former water resources minister Basavaraj Bommai said, “Siddaramaiah seeks PM’s help whenever he finds himself in trouble. But let me assure him that the PM is not the authority to decide on Cauvery issue as the matter is sub judice. So, Siddaramaiah should stop playing politics. The legal team should do a good job”.
Tired of the legal setbacks, the people and the opposition parties in the state are demanding that the legal team representing Karnataka in the Cauvery issue be replaced. However, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who met state counsel F.S. Nariman in Delhi on Friday, batted for the 82-year-old counsel, stating that his long experience, good reputation and knowledge of water disputes would benefit the state.
“I have fought for Cauvery issue for the last 50 years and have resigned twice on the same issue. Our people are also feeling betrayed. However, I have urged Nariman to fight for Karnataka and not bother about critics, who have little knowledge about water disputes,” said Gowda.
The water row has resonated in the social media too after some channels posted videos of a brimming Mettur dam and “exposed” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s claims of distress in the Cauvery delta.
Tweet-happy celebrities found themselves in the line of fire too. Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw who tweeted saying “I am in Delhi no off today” and “Another bandh. It is now Bandhaluru” had to delete her tweets after huge backlash. Further, she sought to clarify her stand and expressed solidarity with the farmers.
Former MP Ramya courted another controversy after she tweeted asking the people why they were protesting even after the government had released water into the canals and farmers were busy in their fields.