Where is Mandyada Gandu (Mandya's man)?" a youth asks sarcastically. His reference is to Mandya MLA, Ambareesh, also a popular actor in the Kannada film industry. Ambareesh who was Karnataka Housing minister in the Siddaramaiah government till last year, had starred in Kannada film 'Mandyada Gandu' in 1994 and the popular title song is a number still hummed by every Mandya resident. The youth says the fact that Ambareesh has not made an appearance, rankles.
Perhaps that is why in the cover of darkness before day break on Wednesday morning, a former Congress MP drove from Bengaluru to Mandya. The leader was walking on eggshells, trying to justify the Siddaramaiah government's decision to abide by the Supreme court order while agreeing with the farmers' angst.
"I told the farmers we will file a review petition in the court. It is a difficult situation and I saw that our farmers are suffering. But we have to abide by the Supreme court order. As a state, we cannot defy it, can we," the former MP reasoned.
The politician did not want to be identified because on the way back to Bengaluru, burning tree logs and tyres that dotted the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway gave the ex-MP a good enough indication of the simmering anger on the ground. The farmers have moved from the fields to the road and the political establishment is finding the journey difficult.
Satish, a farmer is one of the many angry men you find in Mandya, raising the banner of revolt. "There is no water for us or my cattle. How will I provide fodder for my cattle," he asks. He threatens to leave his cattle outside the Mandya district collector's office. "I will take them back when we get water," he says.
The political Opposition watches from Bengaluru as the farmers take over their space in the Cauvery belt. Accusing Siddaramaiah of not protecting Kannadiga interests, the farmers say he has failed them for the second time in two years. Kurubur Shanthakumar, the president of the Karnataka Sugarcane Farmers Association points out that Siddaramaiah fiddled while 1560 farmers killed themselves in 2015-16.
Farmers, adopting a strident tone, had asked Siddaramaiah to defy the court order. "Don't release the water, let there be contempt of court," said Shanthakumar on Tuesday morning. By evening, the decision of the chief minister to release 15000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu for the next ten days was like the last straw on the camel's back.
"He is anti-farmer. 258 farmers killed themselves in one year in the Cauvery delta of Mandya and Mysuru, which is Siddaramaiah's backyard. He did nothing. Now more will die because of no water," says Shanthakumar.
The opposition says Siddaramaiah is to blame for mishandling of the situation. His irrigation minister MB Patil had upped the ante in the week leading up to the order, making Kannadiga farmers believe that water will not be released. "With a rainfall deficit, we have very little water in the four Cauvery dams. We also need it for farming needs and to supply drinking water to Bengaluru, Mysuru and other towns in south Karnataka," Patil had said.
"You made it into an all or nothing game, when the law clearly says water has to be shared," says Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka. "Political leaders should not have given false hopes. Instead they should have communicated that Karnataka will try to minimise the discharge as much as possible."
With the Cauvery belt in protest mode, the Congress is on the back foot. The party's original game-plan was to blame the BJP for its inability to rein in Tamil Nadu government. It was not a strategy that will find takers, was the counter view within the party. Some sections argued in favour of playing to the gallery by refusing to part with a drop of water. But wiser counsel prevailed and Siddaramaiah was advised not to take on the Supreme court. The court had asked Karnataka to "live and let live" last week but it looks like on this side of the Cauvery, the Congress will have to pay a heavy political price.
The Congress is now trying to change the narrative by pointing out that in a similar situation in 2012-13, the then BJP government in Karnataka led by Jagdish Shettar had released 10000 cusecs of water for nine days.
Siddaramaiah's legal team in fact, had offered to give 10000 cusecs in its petition to the court. When Tamil Nadu demanded 20000 cusecs, the court arrived at the compromise figure of 15000 cusecs. Critics now ask if the situation was so precarious, why did Siddaramaiah offer even 10000 cusecs in Delhi, while adopting a 'not a drop to spare' stand in Bengaluru.
Karnataka is in turmoil and will stay 'bandh' on Friday. Even otherwise, in view of the situation, Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation has suspended bus services into Karnataka. Tamil movies have been taken off screens in Bengaluru and the city Tamil Sangam leaders met Karnataka home minister to ensure the safety of the sizeable Tamilian population living in the state capital.
Meanwhile, as the Cauvery water quietly flows into Tamil Nadu, there is a sense of relief. But the lower riparian state is only too aware that it just a small battle won in the Cauvery war that has raged on since 1892 when Tamil Nadu was Madras Presidency and Karnataka was the princely kingdom of Mysore.