Times Of India

Politics in Karnataka has revolved around rivers — Cauvery, Krishna and Mahadayi — in the recent past.

Warming up for the assembly elections, scheduled for early next year, all three major parties are looking to use water as a trump card over other burning topics such as inflation, employment and rural distress.

The issue of water has remained on the back burner despite tall promises made by parties in the run-up to the 2018 assembly polls, but has come to the centre stage again and is likely to find a mention in the election manifestos of BJP, Congress and JD(S).

While Congress launched a padayatra — which is now suspended — pressing for implementation of the Mekedatu drinking water project, JD(S) will launch Jaladhare Ratha on January 26 to highlight the “injustice” meted out to Karnataka by both the state and central governments in implementing irrigation projects.

The ruling BJP is betting big on getting clearance for the long-pending Mekedatu and Kalasa-Banduri (Mahadayi) projects months before the polls and on laying greater emphasis on implementation of the Centre’s flagship Jal Jeevan Mission that aims to provide water tap connections in rural areas.

Sapna Nagaraj, a water expert, said, “While water has always been considered critical for economic and social lives, now it is so for political survival as well.” Quoting India’s waterman Rajendra Singh, she said, “Besides quenching the thirst of people, water also fetches votes.”

A voter priority

Data shows that the importance of water issues for voters has increased significantly in recent years. This was emphasised in an all-India survey conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms on governance issues and voting behaviour in 2018 across 534 Lok Sabha constituencies, involving over 2.7 lakh respondents. Drinking water was third, after better employment opportunities and better healthcare, on the list of top priorities.

Legislators and their political rivals vie with each other to provide drinking water in their constituencies. Almost every MLA and prospective candidate prefers addressing drinking water issues even by spending money from their own pockets.

Emotional issue

Some political observers say the Congress is raking up Mekedatu as it’s an emotional issue for people, especially farmers on state borders. They also say long-winded legal battles have been used as political currency in the past as well to deflect attention from other issues.

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