Congress begins Mekedatu march despite Covid-19 restrictions

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The Congress in Karnataka on Sunday began its 10-day ‘padayatra’ (march), demanding implementation of the Mekedatu project across the Cauvery river, despite the Covid-19 restrictions and opposition from the BJP.

Thousands of people poured into Sangama in Kanakpura taluka in Ramanagara district to take part in the 100-km padayatra. Leaders of the Congress at the national, state, and district local levels landed at the venue which resembles a large fair with performers, loud speakers and huge stages to host the people who are in Ramanagara on the first day of the march.

Apart from pressuring the Basavaraj Bommai-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to initiate works on the contentious Mekedatu project, the padayatra is also an attempt by the Sonia Gandhi-led party to mobilise support ahead of crucial local elections in the state over the next few months and 2023 assembly polls.

DK Shivakumar, the president of the Congress party in Karnataka, is hoping to find his footing and get some traction in his favour within an organisation torn between him and leader of opposition Siddaramaiah.

“Only one aim – Mekedatu! And we are on the way to fulfil it!,” he said in a post on Twitter.

The sea of blue hats continued its journey with leaders walking with their respective entourages.

Though Siddaramaiah did begin his march, he was forced to leave after feeling unwell, according to reports.

“Congress has undertaken politically motivated Mekedatu padayatra to fool the people. But you can’t fool the people again and again,” Basavaraj Bommai, the chief minister of Karnataka, said on Sunday.

He added that the Congress was unable to submit a proper detailed project report during its five-year tenure.

“Now as the assembly elections are approaching, they have taken out the padayatra with political motivation. A sense of guilt is haunting them as they had not done anything for implementing the project during their reign. So they are out to fool the people. This is a political padayatra,” the chief minister said.

The BJP government has warned of action against the proposed march as it violates Covid-19 restrictions over a rise in infections across the state.

“I pray with folded hands to the chief minister that he should withdraw the curfew. Take back the ban imposed by the DC (district collector). This struggle is for you as well since you also want to start the project and it is the duty of any political party to undertake such struggles,” Shivakumar told a local Kannada channel on Sunday morning.

The Congress is hoping to repeat its 2010 march from Bengaluru to Ballari, about 320 kms, during the peak of the illegal mining scandal against then BJP minister and kingpin, Gali Janardhana Reddy, that eventually led to the collapse of the BJP’s first government in southern India and reduced the party to just 40 seats in 2013 as against 110 in 2008.

The Congress is also trying to get various communities to back the march as part of its efforts to mobilise support, especially in the Old Mysuru region where it has a tough battle with the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) and even the BJP which has steadily increased its footprint in the Vokkaliga heartland.

However, not all sections lent support for the cause.

Kannada actor Chetan Kumar expressed his reservations over the project and the harm it actually would cause.

“BJP/Congress/JDS want 9,000cr reservoir project that submerges 12,000 acres of forest in Mekedatu w/ Congress pushing for it via a padayatra. We oppose this environmentally-disastrous demand & all 3 opportunistic parties. We want dam project dropped immediately,” the actor said in a post on Twitter.

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