Bangalore, Oct. 7: Chief minister S.M. Krishna began a nine-day “peace padayatra” from this garden city this morning in a bid to pacify Karnataka farmers agitating against the release of Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu.
Krishna plans to walk more than 150 km through the troubled districts of Mandya and Mysore in the Cauvery basin to explain to people the “different dimensions” of the issue and “creative steps” taken by the Congress government to protect the state’s interests.
Opposition parties have, however, branded the yatra a “political gimmick”, which, they say, has the “singular purpose of covering up the state government’s failure to advocate the state’s cause effectively with the Centre and the Supreme Court”.
The yatra was flagged off from the Raja Rajeshwari temple on the Bangalore-Mysore Road amid chanting of mantras as drumbeats, traditional music and the sound of Nagaswaram pipes contributed to the mood. Hundreds of Congress workers joined the chief minister, who along with his wife Prema offered puja at the temple before embarking on the journey with senior ministers like Dharam Singh and K.H. Ranganath.
Also present were state Congress chief Allum Veerabhadrappa and Balagangadharanath Swamiji, pontiff of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt. Krishna would walk about 15 to 20 km every day during the padayatra, which would take him through his home district Mandya to the KRS dam and Kabini reservoir in Mysore.
Sources close to Krishna said he decided to go on a yatra after realising that parochial feelings were growing by the day in both states over the Cauvery issue. “The chief minister is alarmed at the way people are reacting to the orders of the Supreme Court and felt that he needed to communicate directly to the masses,” a Congress leader said.
If Janata Dal leaders from both groups — Secular and United — were the first to stir the emotions of farmers, Congress leaders in Mandya and Mysore were quick to catch on. Then, incidents like the burning of a railway bogie – though empty – at Mandya hardly helped advance the image of a cosmopolitan state that Karnataka wants to project in its efforts to promote its infotech industry.
Krishna’s speeches on the first day were conciliatory. He has warned people not to get carried away by regional or linguistic feelings. “What we want to build is a mini-India in Karnataka. There should be no difference in the name of language, religion or caste. We want the farmers to withdraw their agitation and ensure that normal life is not disturbed,” he said and added that his government would protect the “interests” of farmers.
The move to undertake the yatra was announced last night, hours after the Cabinet decided not to release Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu despite a Supreme Court directive. But with an all-party meeting already endorsing Krishna’s stand, the Opposition slammed the yatra as a “political gimmick”. “Why should the government do something like this when all parties are supporting it,” asked Janata Dal leader Byre Gowda.
Krishna justified his decision, saying peace should prevail. He has asked Opposition leaders to support the yatra and appealed to intellectuals, writers and actors to join him.