DK Shivakamar at the contentitous Mekedatu rally
DK Shivakamar at the contentitous Mekedatu rally

Mekedatu rally amid COVID scare turns into theatre of the absurd in Karnataka

The padayatra, led by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president DK Shivakumar, was held despite the weekend curfew guidelines introduced by the ruling BJP government in the state.

It was supposed to be a padayatra – walkathon – demanding that the Karnataka government build a reservoir in Mekedatu to help address Bengaluru's drinking water needs. But the 10,000-strong rally conducted by the Karnataka unit of the Congress party in Mekedatu devolved into a theatre of the absurd on Monday, January 10, with the Congress and the BJP taking potshots at each other over the rally being held amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. 

The padayatra, led by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar, started on Sunday despite the weekend curfew guidelines introduced by the ruling BJP government in the state. This, even as the Congress took the lead in pulling out of physical campaigning in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, in view of the emerging third wave of the pandemic. Not to forget, Congress party spokespersons also rightly questioned the Prime Minister and other top BJP leaders for endangering the public by holding massive public gatherings.

In a turn of events, late on Sunday, DK Shivakumar refused to undergo a COVID-19 test and stopped a health official from collecting his swabs. "Rey, mister. I am fit and fine," he told the health official who approached him. Shivakumar alleged that the government would falsely declare him as positive for the coronavirus just to prevent the continuation of the rally.  

Just when things couldn't get more absurd, an official who had approached Shivakumar, along with the health official to collect the swab, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday. Shivakumar in an interaction with reporters said that the Ramanagara District Additional Deputy Commissioner Javare Gowda was deliberately sent by the BJP to infect him. The BJP shot back saying that the official was infected after coming into contact with DKS in the crowd.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening. He had earlier shared a stage with the Ramanagara DC K Rakesh Kumar, who had been in meetings with Javare Gowda earlier. This prompted Shivakumar to again claim that the BJP had sent ADC Javare Gowda to infect him with the virus. 

The Congress further pointed fingers at the BJP too for violating COVID protocols in other parts of the state. Senior BJP MLA Renukacharya was seen participating in a crowded rally at a local fair in his constituency in the Davanagere district. In another incident, Subhash Guttedar an MLA from Kalaburagi district held a rally in his district on Monday.

Planned as a 10-day padayatra, the Mekedatu rally is set to continue till January 19 and culminate in Bengaluru’s Basavanagudi, covering a distance of 139 km in total. The rally has seen the participation of party leaders from the state and Congress workers from the Old Mysuru region. Former CM Siddaramaiah left for Bengaluru on Sunday post-lunch after reporting that he had a fever. But he joined the rally again on Tuesday morning.

While there were suggestions that the state government would not allow the rally to take place in the interest of arresting the number of infections, politics took precedence and the government tacitly allowed the rally to go on as planned. Reportedly, the BJP did not want to give an opportunity to the Congress leadership to be portrayed as heroes. 

The rally drew huge crowds, as expected, and there was no sincere effort made by the organisers to make wearing masks mandatory or observing physical distancing. 

The police, present in large numbers, did not make any effort to stop hordes of Congress supporters, who were making their way into the remote area of Sangam, the starting point of the rally. 

However, on Monday an FIR was registered against top Congress leaders, including DKS and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, as well as some members from the film fraternity who attended the rally for violating weekend curfew that is in place across the state as part of COVID-19 restrictions.

Further, as part of the padayatra, DK Shivakumar even posed with a big group of children where none were wearing masks. Incidentally, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken suo motu cognisance of the incident.

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