The 168-km padayatra to press for implementation of the Mekedatu drinking water project started on January 9 from Sangama, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavati rivers, in Mekedatu in Ramanagara district. The yatra was scheduled to conclude on January 19 with a huge rally in Bengaluru.
Following the court’s rap, the state government late Wednesday night imposed stringent restrictions on participation in the yatra, which was attended by thousands of people with little or no regard for Covid guidelines.
“We’ve decided to suspend the padayatra respecting the court’s opinion and caring for the people’s health. We’ll resume the yatra from Ramanagara to Bengaluru once Covid cases subside and the government lifts related restrictions,” said KPCC chief DK Shivakumar.
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah said the Congress is a responsible party, which counts public health as important. AICC leader Rahul Gandhi reportedly spoke to Shivakumar and advised him on taking an immediate decision considering the optics about the padayatra.
Siddaramaiah said: “We’ve made the decision not out of fear of cases being filed against us.” Sources said the decision was also prompted by a directive of the party command, which felt the yatra was earning negative points especially after the high court’s observation.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, general secretary in charge of Karnataka, asked the Karnataka unit chief to stop the padayatra since it was threatening to give adverse publicity to the party ahead of elections to five crucial States.
At a meeting in Ramanagara earlier in the day, Congress functionaries were divided over stopping the padayatra midway. Some leaders, including Shivakumar, favoured a truncated padayatra with a few leaders walking to Bengaluru to prevent crowding and ensure adherence to Covid-19 norms.
“Had we gone ahead with the plan, police would have arrested us and forcefully ended the yatra. It would have given BJP an opportunity to claim credit for stopping the yatra. Moreover, the party would have faced strictures from the court and faced serious embarrassment,” said a leader who attended the meeting.
On Wednesday, the high court rapped the state government for its inaction to stop the yatra and asked Congress to clarify if it had obtained permission for the yatra and was following Covid protocol. The court will hear the case on Friday.
Following the rap, the state government on Wednesday night banned the padayatra and prohibited movement of people and vehicles into Ramanagara. Officials had pasted a notice on the wall of the residence of DK Shivakumar after he refused to receive it alleging a Covid-infected official had issued it.