Mahadayi Dispute: BJP’s Mistake, Congress’ Gain & Karnataka’s Loss
A long political drama folded  in Karnataka and Goa regarding the disputed Mahadayi river.
A long political drama folded in Karnataka and Goa regarding the disputed Mahadayi river.

(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia/Harvinder Chandigarh)

Mahadayi Dispute: BJP’s Mistake, Congress’ Gain & Karnataka’s Loss

A political solution to the Mahadayi river water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Goa was the ideal scenario for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka to get some political mileage ahead of the Assembly elections in the state.

As a BJP-led government was in power in Goa, leaders of the Karnataka BJP expected to broker a water-sharing deal with Goa, with an intervention from the party’s high command.

If not a resolution for the dispute, at least getting the Government of Goa to release water for drinking purposes would have given the BJP electoral gains in drought-affected Bombay-Karnataka region of Karnataka, which offers 50 seats in the Karnataka assembly.

The Backfire

Close to a month after the Karnataka BJP proposed this resolution, the party’s plan has crumbled.

The Karnataka BJP, which was confident that Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar would oblige the party’s high command, underestimated the BJP’s allies in Goa, who opposed any form of water sharing.

Not only did the government of Goa refuse to compromise, but they also escalated the dispute, which, until then, had been in cold storage.

A minister with Goa Forward Party, one of BJP’s allies, conducted an inspection in Karnataka, where he documented several alleged violations on Karnataka’s side. The minister is now preparing to file a contempt petition against Karnataka for violating Supreme Court orders banning any constructions on the disputed river.

To make matters worse, the Irrigation Minister of Goa, Vinod Palyekar, in one of his statements, called Kannadigas ‘Haraami’, which caused widespread offence among people of the state – and the Congress is channelling this anger against the BJP.

What Is the Mahadayi River Dispute?

Mahadayi river, which flows into Goa as Mandovi, originates from Karnataka’s Belgaum district. The river flows 35 kms through Karnataka and then 52 kms through Goa, before flowing into the Arabian Sea.

In Karnataka, more than a river, Mahadayi is a cluster of springs and only as it reaches Goa does it become a proper river. The river is a lifeline for the drought-affected districts of North Karnataka. Because of this, Karnataka made plans to construct dams and canals along the river to divert the water to drought-affected areas.

Mahadayi/Mandovi Bridge in Ribandar.
Mahadayi/Mandovi Bridge in Ribandar.

(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia/Amol.Gaitonde)

But the river is also a lifeline for Goa and it vehemently opposed Karnataka’s attempt to construct dams. The matter subsequently went before a tribunal.

On 27 July 2016, the Mahadayi River Disputes Tribunal rejected an interim plea by Karnataka to allow diversion of 7.56 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet to meet drinking water requirements in four northern districts of Karnataka and matter remains under dispute.

How BJP’s Plan Snowballed Into Fresh Controversies

It all began when the Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa approached Amit Shah and requested him to talk to Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to smooth over the situation.

In a letter to Yedyurappa, Parrikar agreed to share water for drinking purposes with Karnataka on 20 December on humanitarian grounds.

But the decision stirred a hornet’s nest in Goa, where the BJP’s allies, led by Irrigation Minister Palyekar, came out opposing the decision and announced that no water would be shared with Karnataka.

This was followed by a team, led by Palyekar, visiting the water diversion site in Kankumbi region in north Karnataka, on 13 January. Palyekar then claimed to have found evidence of the Karnataka government violating SC orders and undertaking construction work to divert the water.

Contempt Petition to be Filed

The government of Goa submitted a summary of arguments before the tribunal where one volume of documents is dedicated to the violations of SC order by the Karnataka government.

The State of Goa’s case is essentially the challenge to the proposed 12 projects by the State of Karnataka in the Western Ghats, on interstate River Mahadayi and thereafter, the further proposal for the trans-basin diversion into Malaprabha reservoir from the Mahadayi River. This, in brief, is the main thrust of the case of State of Goa.
Press Release, Goa Government

Palyekar also said that the government of Goa will be filing a contempt petition against Karnataka for violating SC direction and undertaking construction work to divert the water.

#BJPInsultsKannadigas Campaign

The Goan Irrigation Minister’s visit and the subsequent report is expected to go against Karnataka in the tribunal, which is expected to meet in the first week of February.

However, a slip-up by the Goan Irrigation Minister has given the Karnataka Congress ammunition to turn the tables in their favour, despite the disadvantage in the tribunal.

Following his visit to Karnataka, Palyekar allegedly called Kannadigas ‘Haramaari’, while making a statement on the construction work undertaken by Karnataka.

The senior leadership of the Congress bristled, claiming that such abusive language from a minister from a BJP-led government is an insult to the state and began an online attack against the BJP using the hashtag #BJPInsultsKannadigas.

As the pressure mounted, even BJP leaders had to come out condemning their allies in Goa.

BJP’s Miscalculation, Congress’ Gain

As the Karnataka BJP find themselves on the back foot after their plans around Mahadayi river backfired, the Congress in the state is all set to capitalise on it.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who refused to share Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu, is expected to blame the Karnataka BJP for putting the state in a disadvantageous situation in the Mahadayi river water issue, said sources.

Some within the Congress party also believe that this ‘blunder’ from the Karnataka BJP would pave the way for the Congress to eat into the BJP’s vote bank in North Karnataka.

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