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The BJP Tidal Wave in Goa

Careful political management, built on Congress' misdeeds, brought in a Bharatiya Janata Party tidal wave that more or less decimated the ruling party. The BJP has managed to woo the minorities as well, but what impact will soft Hindutva have on diversity in the state?

COMMENTARY

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The BJP Tidal Wave in Goa Frederick Noronha couple of political families got decimated (the Alemaos and the Ravi-Ritesh Naiks), others (Ranes, Monserrates, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP)linked Dhavalikars) sailed through, and

Careful political management, built on Congress’ misdeeds, brought in a Bharatiya Janata Party tidal wave that more or less decimated the ruling party. The BJP has managed to woo the minorities as well, but what impact will soft Hindutva have on diversity in the state?

Frederick Noronha (fredericknoronha1@gmail. com) is a writer based in Goa.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 31, 2012

I
t came with a suddenness. The wave which ousted the ruling Congress Party in tiny Goa’s 40-seat assembly took almost everybody by surprise. But explanations proffered for the decimation of the Congress fail to tell the whole story. The Congress had dominated Goa politics since the early 1980s, with only a few interruptions. It has been attracting some of the more controversial politicians, becoming unresponsive to the voter, and getting repeatedly caught up in bouts of bad publicity. But behind the news, is there a wider story?

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) impressive and clear majority – in a 40-member house where hung-assemblies are often seen to be the most likely result – was in part gifted to it by the Congress disdain and contempt for the voter. The selection of candidates further complicated issues. Multiple tickets given to a few influential families worsened the situation. Making the most of this, the BJP went on to campaign against what it called “family raj”. But while a

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the Madkaikars were partly successful.

Clearly, three factors made a vital difference in the margins. First, a whole lot of independent candidates were strategically placed to contest the elections. Second, the media, assiduously cultivated and reshaped by the BJP in recent years, played a crucial role in crafting a certain image of local politics. Lastly, a whole lot of newly-active nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) also lobbied apparently on very neutral issues like corruption, which hit just one side in a race dominated by two front runners. Some of these NGOs also took an active stance in infl uencing perceptions during the run-up to the elections. Over the past few years, the way in which politicians have manipulated the media – which has, in turn, often played along – raises some serious issues.

Independents’ Role

Carefully working out a long-term strategy, the BJP smartly choreographed its victory in Goa, even as Congress politicians spent their energies largely on scheming how to snatch the chief

COMMENTARY

mini stership or get the maximum number of “their” factional personal loyalists elected as legislators.

In the past, the BJP suffered a handicap because of its Hindutva tag in a state where nearly one-third of the population comprises Christians and Muslims, apart from there being a lot of other d iversity based on caste, language and ethnic differen ces. This time, its strategy consisted of lambasting the Congress government over the years, carefully

propping up independents in areas it could not win, and roping in spoilers who could draw away a signifi cant part of the vote to enable its party candidates to sail through. Cashing in on a division of the votes, the BJP was a

major gainer and won – or blocked a

Congress win – in assembly seats such as Benaulim, Cortalim, Cuncolim, Mormugao, and Sanvordem. This helped it get a simple majority in the 40-seat a ssembly, a rarity since the late 1980s when local politics was factionalised sharply. Independents alone got 16.4% of votes in the recent election.

But in Goa, party labels alone can be very deceptive. One needs to go beyond statistics and labels to appreciate the reality. For instance:

  • The Congress’ very stable chief
  • minister in Goa was an equally successful BJP deputy chief minister during the 2000-05 government.
  • Some of the Congress candidates were BJP legislators till the eve of the elections; they were lured to change sides on a strategy promoted by Congress power-broker Vishwajit Rane.
  • The MGP was an ally of the BJP for this election, and also an ally for fi ve years of power-sharing with the Congress. (MGP blamed the Congress for corruption just before the elections.)
  • Soon after the elections, thanks to the affi davits contestants need to fi le, the nature of the winning candidates surfaced. Out of 40 winners, 37 have assets greater than one crore rupees of which 18 are in the BJP. The outgoing assembly had 22, according to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Goa Election Watch. Besides the contro versial Congressmen – who have been often in the news for this r eason alone – one in three (seven out of 21) of the BJPMLAs have criminal cases pending against them.

    Mining Interests

    But perhaps deserving more attention is the background and occupations of some who have made it with the electorate’s approval. While “illegal” mining was a major issue in the run-up to this election prominent candidates of both BJP and Congress have links with mining equipment, mining transport, barges or mining operations. In one embarrassing case, two former business partners were slugging it out in the electoral fray, one for the BJP and the other for the Congress. The liabilities statement of one showed a debt owed to his “rival” candidate for business purposes!

    Given that the BJP has the bulk of the electorate’s support in the mining belt of interior Goa, the party will be hardpressed to show its results on the mining front. The fi rst test is the Shah Commission report which has been submitted. The new chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, had himself headed a house committee that went into the illegal mining issue, and was abruptly replaced by the Congress government. He says he would prefer to hand over the report to the Lokayukta once the offi ce was set up rather than to the state police, which some environmental activists have charged could be a time-gaining tactic.

    Interior Goa (tucked some distance away from the coastal areas that are mostly visited by tourists and visible more in the media spotlight) has been suffering from excessive mining for

    decades now. Whether this is illegal or legal has made little difference to the people affected.

    Politicians of both the Congress and BJP have colluded with industry and other vested interests to restrict the

    wider mining debate to merely “illegal” mining. If it is a question of legality alone, one has to only recall the manner in which a few crucial words of Goa’s Public Gambling Act were amended to convert a law meant to ban gambling into one which permits and legalises offshore casinos, something which has survived all political changes in Goa.

    Reflecting the confl icting pressures and stands that can be anticipated, Parrikar has been quoted saying:

    Our stand has been clear. We are in favour of legal mining and we are in the know of the problems faced by the people who are

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    dependent on illegal mining. Once we are in power, we will find a solution for those people who have invested in the mining sector and fear losing their livelihood due to closure of illegal mining.

    In 2010, the Congress government had announced that along with mining companies, it was planning to construct a bypass road for ore transportation in the form of a loop starting from Maina- Cavrem (Quepem taluka) and ending at the Capxem jetty in Sanvordem town. The BJP blamed the Congress for doing “nothing on the ground”, and promised to prioritise mining corridors to avoid unbelievable levels of road congestion due to unending streams of mining trucks. But the problem is far deeper, as shown by the links of some politicians with fleets of mining vehicles and equipment.

    The debate works itself out at many levels. At one level is the fact that the lifestyles of villagers has been so totally disrupted in interior Goa by the mining industry for many decades now, but more intensely since the recent Chinese ore-buying boom. At another level, politicians across the party divide and the local industry are willing to concede some problem with illegal mining. Even more superficially is the argument that Goa would benefit simply if mining was better-taxed and faced fewer revenue leakages. The BJP has also raised the issue of spending “at least half the amount” earned from mining for creating “infrastructure” in the mining belt; while this is logical, it might be far from solving the decades-long woes of the people in the areas.

    Another unanticipated factor in the elections was the new delimitation of assembly constituencies, done earlier in the past decade when the BJP was in power here. The exercise was dubbed as “match-fixing”, a term widely used here to indicate how caste-lobbies or business interests coordinate to “help” each other out in the polls. Among those accused by the media of “match-fi xing” in the run-up to the elections were Manohar Parrikar and ex-chief minister Digambar Kamat. Others seen to benefit from weaker BJP candidates were Babush Monserrate and his wife (the

    Economic & Political Weekly

    EPW
    march 31, 2012

    former was repeatedly in the news in the last assembly tenure, for issues ranging from his son’s alleged sexual involvement with an under-age foreigner to his carrying large sums of currency while passing through the Mumbai airport).

    The BJP’s other gambit was to fi eld as many as six Catholic candidates. All six won, implying a mix of Catholic candidates with the backing of BJP voters, could create winners in some constituencies. The problem with this approach is that even in polarised Goa the state’s major minority feels disempowered over who ends up as its representatives. In the past too, the BJP has built up Catholic leaders, only to show them later in a very poor light and expose their misdeeds if their politics did not suit the party.

    Money, Caste, Class

    Some strange developments did help to speed up the Congress decimation. Traditionally, it has been the Congress which is notorious for buying votes. This time, news reports here spoke of how one of the BJP’s winning candidates actually managed to escape despite being caught near a ferry jetty with over Rs 3 lakh in cash on the eve of the poll.

    Catholic anti-Congressism overfl owed too, with some help from the BJP in building the ire. Some priests played their own role. One priest, Fr Bismarque Dias, made it to the headlines when he decided to contest the elections, only the second priest to do so ever in postcolonial Goa. Income tax raids on the Catholic parish priest in Velim, in the crucial minority-dominated Salcete taluka, helped ensure the Congress loss, though it is not clear who or what was behind this.

    Much has been made of Goa’s high 82% voting percentage in the 2012 elections. But this needs to be viewed against the compacting of the electoral rolls, with deletions from the rolls of deceased ex-voters, duplicate voters or those who had changed their residence. The shrinking in the number of total voters might possibly explain the high participation rate, along with the religious polarisation and anti-corruption ire in some areas.

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    The BJP made a pitch to woo all voters with promises. This is reflected in its “Vision Document 2012-17”. The promises include immediately reducing petrol prices by a whopping Rs 11 per litre (from April 2012), higher monthly “pensions” for artists and the elderly, a Rs 1,000 monthly subsidy for housewives to beat inflation, and a Rs 1 lakh deposit for 18-year-old girls to help meet their marriage expenses!

    But middle-class enthusiasm aside, elections in Goa tend to be fought on other issues. In the run-up to the polls, differences within the BJP seemed to threaten it sharply with an open rift surfacing between its top leaders. Long-time leader and MP Shripad Naik stayed away from contesting the elections after his attempts to re-enter Goa politics were blocked apparently by party rivalry. This reflects both Parrikar’s dominant style of do-it-all leadership, as also castebased conflict within the party. Parrikar is from the long-dominant Saraswat brahmin caste. Naik, like some other legislators, are part of the numerically important Bhandari subaltern caste.

    The ‘Alternative’

    Given the Congress record, voters in Goa quickly heaved a collective sigh of relief with the departure of the increasingly unresponsive party. But the question is about the nature of the “alternative” – will it be markedly better?

    The past rule of the BJP in Goa has been quite a mixed bag. It came to power – first indirectly, in late 1999, entirely by encouraging defections from the ruling Congress, and then by ousting its own ex-Congressman allies in late 2000

    – taking advantage of the cover provided by its party government ruling Delhi. While Chief Minister Parrikar apologised for a couple of slights involving the minorities then, there are wider issues which get overlooked. In that tenure, his administration was pro-industry, and some of his decisions over education, police recruitment and the bureaucracy left questions behind.

    Parrikar is known for his ability to work hard and take on responsibilities, even if he tends to micro-manage. This determination, backed by widespread

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    support from the local press, creates a larger than life image. Parrikar has already promised to “weed out corruption from its roots” and build a “Golden Goa”.

    But there are problems en route to this paradise. Despite the BJP national leaders’ claims, the Goa vote continues the dominant post-1963 trend of communal polarisations, if a bit differently. This time around though, the elections saw a consolidation of the “Hindu” vote, while the Catholic polarisation was defl ected away towards independents who invariably gravitate towards the ruling party.

    Parrikar represents one strand of the same social forces that have taken this part of polarisation further. And, the BJP government in Goa could come under all kinds of pressures from Congressmen eager to somehow jockey back to power.

    Despite his bold statements, some of Parrikar’s own team come with questionable backgrounds, including traditional lobbies that have dominated politics here: environment destroying mining in the interior, questionable tourism on the coast, and the building boom overall.

    Immediately after the new BJP government took over in Goa, a series of communally-provocative incidents occurred, in a few Muslim and Catholic graveyards. Parrikar blamed it on instigators trying to discredit his government, and threatened to use the National Security Act against anyone caught. While the timing did seem uncanny, over the recent Congress years in power, a number of attacks were reported on shrines of both major religions, and groups ideologically linked to the BJP made much of this too.

    Years of Congress campaigns as well as BJP-linked parivar extremism have made the minorities wary about the party’s policies. For Goa’s Muslim population, neither the Congress nor the BJP has been able to stand up to local chauvinism or cater to local needs such as long-pending demands for Muslim burial grounds. Communalism is sometimes allied with regionalism, to suggest that newer Muslim migrants into Goa are “extreme”. During Congress rule, anti-Muslim communal clashes erupted in 2006 in Curchorem-Sanvordem, and justice is still awaited.

    Despite the result, there is a sense of being sidelined among sections of the Catholic population too. This section is reminded constantly of its minority status, increasingly rendered invisible in the local bureaucracy, and politically powerless apart from a few controversial leaders. This, in a region where the community still has a vibrant cultural presence and was in fact a majority till about a century ago, when outmigration (and post-1961 elections) changed the balance of power.

    On the other hand, the experimenting by the Parrikar-led BJP has managed to woo an influential if small section of Catholic public opinion. Ironically, this has worked best with the Catholics of upper-caste origins. In places like Panaji, pockets like the old elite area of Campal have shown a preference for the politics of Parrikar, though not necessarily for the BJP as a party. For his part, the BJP chief minister has been willing to offer tokens like an elegant spruce-up of the locality, if needed with some of the buildings redone in the old colonial style, as with the case of the old Goa Medical College. Elsewhere, caste lob bying within the Catholic society could also be benefi ting the BJP’s attempts at growth.

    Social Debate

    One question that comes up is the impact Goan-style soft Hindutva has on the social debate here. The religious polarisation is clearly having an impact on all religious communities, giving a setback to some attempts in the last fi ve decades to liberalise a formerly strongly colonialinfluenced church. The quality of community-based “leadership” which is given credibility by the two major political parties also leaves a lot to be desired. This could lead to a spiral of conservatism on all fronts.

    More important is the impact of these politics within the Hindu population. Despite earlier attempts to incorporate some subaltern ideologies of nearby Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu (a form of “Bahujan Samaj” politics held sway in Goa in the 1960s), the tenor of the discussion here is still largely conservative and elite-controlled. Goa still awaits its regional enlightenment despite being the home of a DD and Dharmanand Kossambi, or a Tristao Braganza Cunha. So far, the small measures of progressive perspectives have depended on wellmeaning elites, rather than the empowering of the large, if invisible, underprivileged. But that has its limits. For instance, one notable trend of the BJP’s ascent to power here is how a section of former student radicals of the 1970s and 1980s has effectively lent support and credibility to the Parrikar bandwagon.

    At the end of the day, this form of strategising could have implications for the wider BJP approach towards diversity within the country.

    Table 1: Final Party Position

    Number of seats 40
    BJP 21
    MGP 03
    Congress 09
    Goa Vikas Party 02
    Independents 05
    Table 2: Share of the Vote (in %)
    BJP 36.0
    MGP 6.7
    Congress 29.7
    NCP 4.1
    Independents 16.4
    Goa Vikas Party 3.5
    Others 3.6

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