As the main opposition parties united and went on heightened activity over the diversion of Mhadei river waters, the ruling BJP fell back on defensive mode stating that the issue should not be politicised. However, it is the responsibility of the opposition to take up issues that affect the people and acquaint the government with the people’s feelings.
The opposition, in the current instance, is merely doing what it is called upon to do and there has been no politicisation of the matter. On the other hand, this is a people’s movement that has the propensity to grow in the days and weeks ahead unless there is some solution before there is an escalation in tactics.
Look at it in this manner: the taluka call at the Save Mhadei Save Goa meeting at Sankhali on Opinion Poll day acknowledged the presence of people from every taluka, indicating that the campaign for the river waters has pan-Goa support.
Yet, there were just six legislators at that meeting – four from Salcete, one from Quepem and one from Bardez. This means that nine talukas and 34 constituencies went unrepresented by any MLA from the constituency at the meeting and it was people who came there on their own.
How then does this make the movement political? Merely because the issue has been taken up by the opposition does not make it political. On the other hand, the priority of the political establishment – this includes the government and the opposition – should be finding a solution to the Mhadei issue, a solution that benefits Goa and which brings some finality to the long-pending matter.
Yet, the partisan lines taken by the government and the opposition on the Mhadei are not new. It is just a continuation of what was seen in August 2018 when the Mhadei water disputes tribunal delivered its award.
At that time too political parties had spoken in similar fashion, with the government terming it a victory and the opposition a disaster. The Mhadei water issue should be above politics where the interests of the State are first, and political one-upmanship is cast aside.
What, however, gives it political overtones is not the opposition parties, but the conduct of the three Independent legislators vis-à-vis the diversion of water issue. The absence of the Independent MLAs from the Mhadei protest meeting at Sankhali, and their restraint in making any comments, raises the question of whether the three Independents who have supported the government are indeed independent or whether they are dependent on the government.
What could be the reason that kept the Independent MLAs away from the people’s meeting on Mhadei? Shouldn’t they have been present with the people, to show solidarity with the thousands who travelled kilometres to reach Sankhali that afternoon?
The meeting at Sankhali has given the government 15 days to act on the matter. Looking at past experience, the government is not going the meet these demands in a fortnight. The planned show of strength in the constituency of the chief minister has been successful.
The question is: what next? How will this people’s movement for the Mhadei river waters be taken forward? It requires leadership, it requires direction. The Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan has been at the forefront of the campaign for over a decade and it requires to be strengthened by the people who have already displayed their willingness to defend their rights over the river water. It needs to be taken further.
The movement or the campaign has to be jointly taken forward by the people and the government. While the people keep the pressure on the government to act, the latter has to make the Centre understand and accept the fact that Goa is a water-deficient State.
The Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan has been repeating this constantly, but even if the government has been saying it is listening, it is not. Being a water-deficient State, any reduced water flow through the main river will undoubtedly disturb the ecological balance and turn detrimental to Goa’s fragile ecosystem.
It is also pertinent to note that the River Mhadei, though it originates in Karnataka, flows for the longest in Goa.
The River Mhadei is Goa’s lifeline. This makes water diversion issue an emotional one for Goans. Would there otherwise be such a massive crowd for the meeting at Sankhali?
Like previous emotive issues that led to campaigns and agitations, this one too could spread across the State, reinforcing the fact that this is a people’s movement as nobody who participated in the meeting on Opinion Poll Day is asking for anything for themselves. There are no selfish motives here. The people are asking for the State, for reducing the River Mhadei water flow is not in the best interests of Goa.