Goa

Feeling let down

Print edition : May 16, 2014

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Photo: Manvender Vashist /PTI

Members of the Goa Mining People's Front staging a protest dharna in New Delhi demanding the resumption of mining operations in Goa, on April 25, 2013. Photo: V. Sudershan

JUST over two years ago the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa, headed by Manohar Parrikar, rode on his social engineering skills and tacit “support” from the influential Archdiocese of Goa to decisively win the elections to the State Assembly. His party’s 21 seats in the 40-member Assembly was a record of sorts—it not only gave him a clear majority but, more interestingly, it was for the first time in Goa’s post-liberation history that Hindus and Roman Catholics (who, at 27 per cent of the population, are a “dominating” minority) had come together, pinning their hopes on one man. And it was widely hoped that Parrikar would take Goa out of the rut that the corruption-tainted Digambar Kamat-led Congress government had put the tiny State in. So strong was the yearning for change and the mood against the Congress that it was relatively easy for Parrikar to find a few nondescript Catholic politicians, rope them into the BJP, prop up their religious credentials and win in Catholic-dominated areas where hitherto the BJP had no chance of doing well in. Five Catholics won in the Assembly elections under the saffron flag.

But Parrikar went back on the promises he had made on a number of key issues, like the setting up of casinos, the plan to go ahead with a new airport at Mopa, and mining. And his attempts to sneak in a toothless Lok Ayukta and the failure to adhere to his avowed zero tolerance to corruption have resulted in his popularity taking a sharp dip. The extent of the people’s disappointment will be known when the results to Goa’s two Lok Sabha seats—elections to which were held on April 12—are announced. Many, going by the record 76.82 per cent voter turnout on April 12, are already asking if Parrikar’s honeymoon with the Church and the State’s 10,60,777 voters is over.

Of the State’s two Lok Sabha seats, the North Goa, or Panaji, parliamentary constituency has been the pocket borough of the BJP, while the Congress has won the Catholic-dominated South Goa, or Mormugao, constituency 10 out of 14 times. But thanks to delimitation exercises, mass migration and, of course, defections, the fault lines have changed, especially in the South. This time around, the main contenders for the North Goa seat are the incumbent BJP MP Shripad Yesso Naik, seeking his fourth term, and Ravi Naik, the veteran Congressman and former Chief Minister, whose name reportedly figured in the drug mafia case when he was the Home Minister of Goa. Both the Naiks belong to the politically strong Bhandari Samaj (a caste listed as a backward class and which constitutes more than 30 per cent of Goa’s Hindu population). Also in the fray are former Deputy Chief Minister Dayanand Narvekar, who quit the Congress and contested as an independent, and the Aam Aadmi Party candidate, Dattaram Desai.

Besides the anti-incumbency factor, Shripad Naik’s chances could have been hurt also by the BJP rebel Vishnu Naik Wagh. A writer and artist, the MLA of St Andre, who had joined the BJP from the Congress just before the 2012 Assembly elections, had, much to the irritation of the party, joined an agitation of students protesting against the BJP government’s policy to continue the grants to diocesan English medium primary schools and had publicly dared the party to act against him. He has also been writing a column of satirical verses in a local newspaper, criticising and ridiculing both Narendra Modi and Parrikar. He was even considered the front runner for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance ticket if he was thrown out of the BJP. That did not happen, but he is known to have carried on a negative campaign against his own party.

In the South Goa constituency, the Congress, bucking a rebellion from two former Chief Ministers, the veteran politicians Francisco Sardinha (the sitting MP) and the maverick Churchill Alemao, opted for a younger, fresher face, the Curtorim legislator Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco.

While Churchill wanted the seat for his daughter Valanka, Sardinha sought renomination. Both Churchill, who quit the Congress (for the third time) and contested on the Trinamool Congress ticket, and a sulking Sardinha, who got his son Shalom to contest as an independent, will dent the Congress’ chances. The BJP had once again fielded Narendra Sawaikar, an advocate-turned-politician who lost to Sardinha in 2009. Swati Kerkar, the AAP candidate, is also the lone woman candidate fielded by any of the political parties. The AAP in Goa, which was boosted by the presence of the popular musician Remo Fernandes and the noted activist Oscar Rebello, could take a few thousand votes. Tellingly, both the seats were won by narrow margins in 2009—Shripad Naik won by 6,471 votes and Francisco Sardinha retained his seat against Sawaikar by 12,516 votes.

Campaigning

Electioneering for parliamentary seats in Goa has always been dominated by local issues, and it was no different this time. Neither Modi nor Rahul Gandhi visited Goa in the run-up to the elections (Modi addressed a rally in the middle of January). The opposition Congress, besides alleging that Parrikar was authoritarian, practised vengeful politics and made attempts at saffronisation, accused his government of being corrupt, promoting crony capitalism, ruining Goa’s fragile ecosystems by allowing land conversion for “concrete” development and putting on the back burner the Regional Plan in order to allow builders close to the BJP government time to get their projects sanctioned.

The BJP highlighted the failures of the Congress at the Centre, the policy paralysis of the Manmohan Singh government and, of course, Modi’s and Parrikar’s development agendas and governance.

Mining

Mining accounts for 20 per cent of Goa’s GDP, and revenues from mining contribute to over a tenth of the Rs. 10,054-crore annual budget. The Supreme Court-ordered ban on mining, which has been in place since September 2012 [the ban was lifted recently with a cap on the annual output], has drastically affected the livelihood of people in at least seven taluks and in the Mormugao port. Parrikar assured voters that legal mining would be restored if Modi became the next Prime Minister.

Parrikar himself has stated that he would like to win both the seats so as to strengthen Goa’s influence in the event of the BJP forming a government at the Centre. But will he? For a start, the influential Church, without really naming Parrikar or Modi, has asked its flock to vote for candidates who can help form a secular government in New Delhi. Again, without naming Modi or Parrikar, the Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), the social work wing of the Archdiocese of Goa, in a statement, termed the models of good governance that were being showcased by the BJP as a “myth” and “lacking transparency, accountability and participatory equality”.

Again without naming Modi, the CSJP said that it was apparent that the election campaign supported by the media was geared towards the promotion of one individual. The CSJP statement had even caused a furore in the Parrikar government, with Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza stating that the minorities had apprehensions about Modi and would continue to harbour them in the future. There was further trouble for Parrikar when an articulate and influential priest, Fr Cedric Prakash, who is the Director of Prashanti, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, during lectures in Goa in the run-up to the elections, spoke of how people “should have the moral courage to give a resounding defeat at [the] general election to all those who are divisive and sectarian, spread hatred and would like to destroy the pluralistic character of [India] and the secular fabric of [the Indian] Constitution”. Parrikar, well aware of the Church’s growing disenchantment with him, has deliberately underplayed the Modi/Hindutva card, especially in South Goa, not wanting to further antagonise the Church and the Catholics.

The results in the two seats will be an indicator of the BJP government’s and Parrikar’s popularity. The huge voter turnout, the highest for any Lok Sabha election in Goa, has certainly surprised many since it came at the end of a very lacklustre election campaign. While both the BJP and the Congress see it as an approval of their policies and candidates, many political watchers wonder if the huge turnout could produce a surprise.

Ravi Sharma

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