Bengaluru: Bengaluru roads, which are almost always bursting at the seams, were relatively empty today as Karnataka observed a 12-hour bandh that began at 6 in the morning. The bandh was called by a group of Kannada organisations to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attention towards the contentious issue of sharing of waters of the Mahadayi River.
Karnataka wants to go ahead with the Kalasa Banduri project that aims to divert water into the northern districts of the state. The project is facing stiff opposition from neighbouring Goa -- a major part of the Mahadayi flows through Goa before emptying into the Arabian Sea - as it is worried that it would affect their own water supply. The two states along with Maharashtra are before a tribunal which is deciding the issue.
Schools and colleges in the state capital remained shut. Although the ruling Congress government had said that buses would run normally, state-owned buses stayed off the roads. Taxis and some autorickshaws were available. The Metro services also ran as usual. Medical services were not affected. Film screenings were stopped during the day but the shows would resume by 6 pm. Many actors from the Kannada film industry supported the protest.
Protesters gathered at Town Hall in Bengaluru and marched to Freedom Park carrying red and yellow flags -- the state's colours. Kannada activist, Vatal Nagaraj, a veteran of bandhs and protests, also participated in the bandh. There were protests in Hubballi and other places in north Karnataka which would benefit from the Kalasa Banduri project.
But it was the common man who had to bear the brunt of the shutdown.
An autorickshaw driver in Jayanagar told NDTV, "There is hardly anybody on the streets. My earnings are badly hit. This bandh is a problem for us."
"These bandhs won't achieve anything. In the end, it's the public that suffers. It hits the daily wage earners the most," an elderly from Bengaluru said.
At the Town Hall protests, Karunada Sevakaru, one of the groups that had called for bandh, justified the bandh. Dilip, a member, told NDTV, "The idea was to show support to the farmers and to draw PM Modi's attention."
Another member Raghu added whether the bandh achieved its purpose or not, it was something that had to be done.
Karnataka is no stranger to water sharing disputes with neighbouring states. Its tussle with Tamil Nadu over sharing of Cauvery waters has been on for decades with protests on the issue sometimes turning violent. But a difference this time is that there seems to be a lack of unity between political parties in the state. As BJP President, Amit Shah, addressed a rally in Mysuru, the saffron party accused the Congress of backing the bandh today. Another bandh is planned for February 4, a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be addressing a rally in Bengaluru.
BJP state party chief and former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has also called for bandhs in districts to be soon visited by Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Last month, farmers had protested outside the BJP office in Bengaluru accusing Mr Yeddyurappa of failing to live up to his promise of solving the Mahadayi water issue by the end of 2017. Mr Yeddyurappa had been in touch with Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who had replied to his letter, something which wasn't appreciated by the Congress and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.