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Karnataka Assembly Elections: Will claims of resolving Mahadayi row help the BJP?

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    With just months to go before Karnataka heads into elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled its best trick out of the hat (yet), or so it thought when the saffron outfit played the Mahadayi (also known as Mandovi in Goa) river water card.

    Karnataka Assembly Elections: Will claims of resolving Mahadayi row help the BJP?

    Armed with just a letter written by the Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, Karnataka BJP president B S Yeddyurappa on Thursday almost claimed to have resolved the at least four-decade-old dispute between the states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

    The announcement coming at a time when the state is heading into election year and the BJP has been pushed to the defensive by the Siddaramaiah led Congress government on issues including renewed demands for a separate religion for Lingayats (believed to be the single largest community in Karnataka), remaining silent on Karnataka flag, anti Hindi imposition protests as well as charges of inciting communal violence among others serious issues. While the BJP in Karnataka is hoping to score brownie points by raising the Mahadayi issue, the matter has ruffled feathers of BJP and its allies in Goa.

    With elections fast approaching, the BJP has promised to resolve both river water disputes--Cauvery and Mahadayi--if voted into power; and thereby trying to play the water card- considered one of the most sensitive- in the drought-prone state of Karnataka.

    "...in principle the state of Goa would not oppose the reasonable and justified quantum of water meant to be utilised for drinking," Yeddyurappa read out from the letter, emphasising on 'would not oppose', to thunderous applause and cheer by the people of Hubballi--about 410 kms from Bengaluru--which is among four other parched districts of North Karnataka that would stand to benefit from any such resolution, if there is indeed one.

    Though Parrikar had stated nothing more than what has already been established before, the BJP in Karnataka spared no time to claim victory on social media platforms.

    Political analysts say that the strategy is justified (from the BJP's viewpoint) after the Lingayat- Veerashaiva row threatened to eat into the saffron party's votes

    "Basis of BJP's vote-share comes from North Karnataka and it is now under threat thanks to the Lingayat row. As a result, they are looking at Mahadayi but it is not easy," said Professor Harish Ramaswamy, Psephologist and professor at Karnataka University, Dharwad.

    He adds that the sensitive topic being discussed within the BJP raising doubts if the party was genuinely interested in resolving the issue or just working towards self-interest. "It is a huge problem for the BJP if it is proven that this is a partisan activity carried out only in the interest of the party and not people," Ramaswamy added.

    Yeddyurappa's claims to resolve (at least the Mahadayi river) issue stems from the fact that there is a BJP led government in Goa. However, the missed opportunity to resolve the matter from 2008-2013 (when the BJP was in power in Karnataka) going on to iterate that river water sharing is decided on state's interests rather than same-party-in-power perspective.

    "If one hears the first reaction coming from the allies, they appear content at giving up the Water resource Ministry rather than withdraw their support," said Prof Rahul Tripathi, Head of the Department of Political Science, Goa University.

    The Congress choosing not to be a mute spectator and fighting back on all available platforms, considering that the very future of the party is at stake at next years elections as Karnataka is one of the last big states governed by the grand old party.

    While hijacking the Mahadayi issue is unlikely to be a cakewalk for the BJP in Karnataka, the situation for the party, albeit tough at first, may be favourable later in Goa, analysts suggest. "In the short run it certainly will dent the government's image as having yielded to pressures from Delhi but in the long run, it gives an opportunity to put in place verifiable mechanisms to ensure that Goa's interests are not harmed," Prof Tripathi added.

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