Rally turns super-spreader as virus infects several senior Congress party leaders; Foot march to resume from Ramanagara after third wave subsides; Heavy Police bandobust at Ramanagara
Bengaluru: The Karnataka Congress this noon decided to postpone its 10-day contentious Mekedatu padayatra, a day after the State Government, pulled up by the High Court, ordered an immediate ban on the Opposition party’s rally which was taking place despite a massive surge in the State’s daily COVID-19 cases. The padayatra, which began on Jan. 9, was to culminate in Bengaluru on Jan. 19.
The decision was taken after party leaders participating in the march, including KPCC President D.K. Shivakumar and former Chief Minister Siddharamaiah, held a meeting in Ramanagara to discuss the future course of the padayatra.
“We are not stopping because of the Government orders. We are stopping because of concern towards people. In Bengaluru, the cases are rising, and lakhs would have gathered for the programme. So we discussed the matter and we are temporarily stopping the Mekedatu padayatra. When the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, we will continue the padayatra from here (Ramanagara),” Shivakumar said.
“Till now we have done the padayatra successfully. Today, the fifth day had to start from Ramanagara and we were to go through the Bengaluru-Mysuru Highway. Yesterday when we saw how many have been infected in Bengaluru, the cases were more than 15,000. We are a political party, an old political party which has ruled in the State and country. We have responsibilities,” he said.
Siddharamaiah alleged that members of the Congress party have been falsely booked for allegedly flouting COVID-19 rules at the rally. Earlier this morning, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) cancelled the permission given for the valedictory of the event at National College Grounds on Jan. 19.
Chief Minister makes personal appeal
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai this morning made a personal appeal to Siddharamaiah and Shivakumar to end their foot march. “I am ready to take all measures towards implementing the Mekedatu project by taking all of you into confidence,” Bommai said in a statement addressed to Siddharamaiah and Shivakumar.
“The third wave of the Coronavirus has intensified, which has affected people, especially children,” Bommai said. “This being the situation, it’s not right from a public health point-of-view to get people out together in large numbers for a padayatra and things like that. Even the High Court has taken a strong view on this, which also reflects the sentiment of the public,” he said.
“So, drop the padayatra now and let’s face the pandemic together. In the coming days, let’s unitedly take steps on implementing Mekedatu,” Bommai said.
Police ready to take action
Hours before the Congress made the announcement of the padayatra’s suspension, a high-level meeting of top Police officials was held in Ramanagara where it was decided to stop Congress from continuing the yatra from Ramanagara to Bengaluru. The Police had planned to stop the march either at Ramanagara or near Bidadi when it ends today evening after massive force mobilisation.
Besides, it was decided to check vehicles entering the Ramanagara headquarters and stop those who are coming to take part in the rally. A heavy Police deployment was made and more than 4,000 men were deployed in and around the Ijoor Circle and Reserve Police platoons camped at outskirts ready to rush in case of need.
Meanwhile, several Congress leaders participating in the rally have tested positive for COVID-19, sparking fears of a ‘super spread’ of the disease amid the densely-packed rally. Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Mallikarjuna Kharge, Congress leader Veerappa Moily and others have tested positive for the disease, while several others are down with COVID-like symptoms, such as fever.
Moily and Kharge had both been part of the inauguration ceremony for the padyatra. Former Minister H.M. Revanna, MLC C.M. Ibrahim, MLA N.H. Shivashankara Reddy also tested positive.
Former Bengaluru Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun tested positive, along with other women leaders like Kamalakshi Rajanna and Manjula Manasa. MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar is also down with fever. Shivakumar had refused to get tested upon the arrival of the district health official, telling him, ‘Hey Mister, I am fit and fine’.
Are you totally incompetent to stop rally, HC asks Govt.
Yesterday, the Karnataka High Court questioned whether the State Government and its authorities were ‘helpless and totally incompetent’ to stop the padayatra when no permission was granted and the guidelines on COVID-19 prohibit such rallies and gatherings.
The Court directed the government to explain how it allowed the padayatra to take place and why appropriate action was not taken by the authorities to restrain the KPCC from carrying out the padayatra.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Suraj Govindaraj issued the directions while hearing a PIL petition that questioned inaction on the part of the State Government in stopping the political rally when guidelines had clearly banned such activities. The Bench took up the petition for hearing on an urgent basis as petitioner’s counsel cited health risk posed due to continuation of the rally.
“Do you mean to say that State authorities were helpless to stop the rally?” “What were you watching…. when permission was not granted… Are you (State authorities) totally incompetent to stop it knowing fully well that it was not in public interest in the present COVID-19 situation,” the Bench questioned orally while asking whether the State Government and the DC of Ramanagara cannot act sans judicial orders.