March 11, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART VI



BATTLEGROUND GOA

The last state that goes to polls in the first round of the assembly elections in 2012 is the small yet beautiful state of Goa. Known for its blue waters, pristine beaches, grand churches and magnificent temples, the most picturesque of all states in the Indian Union attracts a large number of tourists each year. With a small population and a good literacy rate, Goa is considered as one of the best states to live in. Due to the fact that the state formed a part of Portugal for over 450 years, the Goan culture, characterized by sushegaad or easy going attitude is a unique blend of Indian and Portuguese elements. 
Goa CM Digamber Kamat
Though the state celebrated 50 years of liberation on 19 December last year, there has been a steady rise in the discontent amongst the local populace as many of the problems that continue to haunt them have not yet been resolved. While the state is miles ahead of several other in terms of development, it has also acquired the dubious distinction of being a politically volatile state. In an assembly comprising of just 40 members, poaching of MLAs, horse trading and side switching are very common. The state has seen as many as 19 Chief Ministers in the last 5 decades, with some like Ravi Naik and Churchill Alemao serving for as few as six and eighteen days respectively. With both the culture and environment of Goa under threat, the upcoming polls are being looked upon by the electorate as extremely crucial for the future of the state.

Like in neighboring Karnataka, illegal mining which has stripped many parts of the state of its green cover is likely to be the most dominant issue in the upcoming polls. Many parts of the state like Bicholim in North Goa and Salcette, Sanguem and Quepem in South Goa are rich in minerals like iron, manganese and bauxite. However, over the years, the mining heavyweights in connivance with politicians have indulged in illegal mining, robbing the state exchequer and flouting all environmental and wildlife clearances.

A report by a committee in this regard headed by the then PAC chairman and Leader of Opposition Manohar Parrikar has criticized the Congress led state government of doing very little to curb this menace. With four member of the committee, three Congressmen and one MLA of the MGP – a coalition partner in the government, refusing to sign the report, Speaker Pratapsing Rane did not table it. Accusing the BJP leader of leaking the report, the Speaker reconstituted the PAC and replaced Parrikar with BJP MLA from South, Vijay Pai Khot who was seen as being close to the CM and in fact, switched over to the Congress a few months later. Another report by Justice M B Shah is said to have found evidence that most of the mine owners were extracting more resources than permissible under the law mainly to satisfy the demands of the Chinese markets. The Shah report is also believed to have indicted several prominent members of the state government of profiting from this flourishing trade at the cost of Goa and its people. Like Parrikar’s report, the Shah report has not yet been published, and sources suggest that Shah may be relieved of his consignment soon to prevent further embarrassment to the party.

With Goa’s CM Digamber Kamat serving as the state’s Minister for mines for a whopping 12 years, many believe that he has played a key role in promoting and shielding the mining mafia. Apart from Kamat, several Congressmen including Vishwajeet Rane (Health), Joaquim Alemao (Urban Development) and GPCC President Subash Shirodkar are either, directly or indirectly, connected to the mining industry. Though the BJP has made a huge hue and cry over this issue, its candidates in the mining rich areas of Sanguem, Curchorem, Sanvordem and Bicholim have interests in the mining and allied sectors, like that of the ruling Congress.

The issue of non-Goan migrants endangering Goa’s unique culture and identity has led to discontent among the locals. Thanks to tourism, mining and construction industries, many skilled and unskilled laborers from all over the country are being attracted to the state to make a quick buck. With influx of migrants increasing day by day, the locals believe that they might end up becoming a minority in their own state. This has fuelled the sons of the soil movement, which is gathering momentum gradually. A large number of non-Goans being accused of indulging in anti-social activities has made the matter worse. Though the agitation has largely been peaceful, it could take a violent turn anytime in the future. On these lines, the demand for special status to Goa, like several North Eastern states has been growing over the years. However, the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has dismissed such demands while adding that financial assistance to the state from the Centre may be increased. Even the BJP has not made any such promise in their manifesto.
BJP leader Manohar Parrikar
Closely related to the above issue, is the threat posed by real estate agents or the ‘land sharks’ that have cropped up in the state in the last one and half decade, hell bent on selling off Goa’s most priced resource – land to the highest payer. With the rich and middle class Indians preferring to buy their second homes in this popular tourist destination, the price of land, not only along the coast but even in the remotest corners of the state has sky rocketed. Several ministers and bureaucrats have been accused of pocketing massive sums of money to convert forest and agricultural land into commercial property. Besides, the Russian mafia is said to have acquired large stretches of land in Morjim which has become the hub of drugs and sex trade. The clout of the mafia can be inferred from the fact that the former Director General of Police (DGP) of Goa, Aditya Arya was transferred out of the state, alleged for his tough stand on his issue, apart from a series of other differences with the government.

The Regional Plan 2011 (RP 2011) which provided a framework for land conversion in the state in the coming years had become a major issue against the Congress government in 2007 elections. With ministers accused of getting huge kickbacks from the builders lobby, the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) under social activist Dr. Oscar Rebello launched a massive agitation asking for scrapping the proposal which received state wide support, most notably from the Catholic community. Even former CM Churchill Alemao quit the Congress and floated his own party, the Save Goa Front. Though he managed to beat Congress candidate and another former CM Luizinho Faleiro from Navelim, his party managed to get only two seats while the Congress got 16. After the new CM Digamber Kamat scrapped RP 2011, Churchill merged his party into the Congress and was made the PWD minister in the new government.

Unlike in 2007, the state government has involved several prominent architects, planners and members of the GBA to frame the Regional Plan 2021 (RP 2021), aiming to bring in transparency that was absent last time around. Much to the disappointment of the Congress-NCP government, voices against RP 2021 are getting louder. Bad boys of Goan politics, Education minister Babush Monseratte and Health minister Vishwajeet Rane are largely blamed for colluding with builders to de-notify vast acres of land for personal gains.

Another weapon in the arsenal of the BJP is the medium of instruction (MoI) at the primary level, which made the headlines in the state for a significant part of 2011. According to the Right to Education Act constituted by the Parliament, every child is to be provided in his mother tongue, which in this case is Konkani, in his neighborhood. When the Goa assembly was to ratify this Act, the Force for Rights of Children’s Education (FORCE) in association with several Catholic organizations asked the government to provide grants even to schools that use English as the MoI at the primary level, claiming that the choice should be left to the parents to decide as to which medium their child should study in. However the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM), headed by another former CM Sashikala Kakodkar in association with several freedom fighters has opposed any such move claiming that MoI should either be Konkani or Marathi. They say that providing grants to English might lead to extinction of regional languages and ultimately, the Goan culture in the future.

Initially the state government announced that it would only give grants to schools that use Konkani or Marathi as MoI. However, it later succumbed to the demands of the English lobby and decided to give grants to even those schools that conduct primary classes in English provided that they even have Konkani and Marathi sections. This triggered a series of demonstrations from the BBSM and the BJP. Even the MGP, a coalition partner in the government expressed its displease over the decision but continued to be its part. The Kamat government’s flip flops and indecisiveness over the MoI has drawn flaks from all quarters.
Congress leader Churchill Alemao with daughter Valanka
Continuing its rich tradition of family politics, the Goa unit of the Congress has given tickets to kin of several prominent leaders in the upcoming polls. Justifying the decision, the party in charge of Goa Oscar Fernandes has said that the biggest factor that the party considered while granting tickets has been ‘win ability’. While the Ranes - Pratapsinh from Poriem and son Vishwajeet from Valpoi and the Alemao brothers - Churchill from Navelim and Joaquim from Cuncolim have been retained, Churchill’s daughter Valanka has been allocated a ticket from Benaulim. Joaquim’s son Yuri has managed to bag a NCP seat from Sanguem, making it four tickets to the Alemao family from the Congress-NCP coalition. Besides, the Monserrates - Babush from St Cruz and wife Jennifer from Taleigao, the Naiks – Ravi from Ponda and son Ritesh from Madkai and the Madkaikar brothers - Pandurang from Cumbharjua and brother Dhaku from Priol are the others that have benefited from the Congress policy.

With the government already battling charges of corruption, the Opposition BJP has claimed that if many members of a family are elected, it can lead to centralization of power and more corruption. However, its pre-poll ally, the MGP has retained the Dhawalikar brothers – Sudhin from Marcaim and Deepak from Priol. Meanwhile, the Delhi CM Sheila Dixit has claimed that the Goa model of ticket distributing could be employed elsewhere in case it is successful in the upcoming polls.
Though the BJP is stepping up its attack on the government, the biggest worry for the saffron outfit is the reported rift between two of its most prominent leaders in the state - Manohar Parrikar and the party's lone MP from the state Shripad Naik. Manohar, a two time CM is the only IITian to  become the Chief Minister of any Indian state. Widely regarded as an upright and honest man, he is credited to have launched several welfare programmes during his tenure. However, he is known to be autocratic and stubborn, a fact that people say makes it difficult to work with him. Meanwhile, Shripad Naik has represented the North Goa constituency in the Parliament for several terms.


Party insiders say that Shripad wanted to contest the state elections from Porvorim. While there was little doubt that Naik would romp home to victory, he would surely emerge as a strong rival to Parrikar, which could hamper the BJP's unity and be detrimental to its interest. Initially, when the party refused to allocate a ticket to Shripad, he went to the media and demanded answers from he national leadership. Finally, when the BJP agreed to give him a ticket, he turned down the offer, much to the relief of the high command. The Congress has tried to project the snub to Shripad as the BJP's pro-Brahmin policy. They say that party favored Parrikar over Shripad as the former belongs to the influential Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) community whereas the latter is a low caste leader.

Considering the fact that the Goa has seen hung assembly in the last few state elections, the smaller regional parties are hoping to play king makers in case the trend continues this time. The NCP which is a partner in the incumbent government has entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress and will contest 7 seats. When veteran NCP leader Praful Patel reached Goa to finalize candidates for the seats allocated to it, a host of Congress leaders including Vishwajeet Rane, Ravi Naik, Babush Monserrate and Joaquim Alemao went to him to get seats for their relatives and supporters, who could not be accommodated by their party. While the party retained its incumbent MLAs – Nilkant Halarnkar from Tivim and Jose Philip D’Souza from Vasco, its other candidates include Yuri Alemao (Sangeum), Rudresh Chodankar (Mayem) and Ashish Shirodkar (Mapusa). With so many tickets allocated to acquaintances of the Congressmen, the NCP unit of Goa looks more like a B Team of the Congress. Meanwhile, several state leaders of the party who were denied tickets have shifted over to the BJP or are contesting as independents.
Barge carrying minerals on Mandovi river
The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which ruled the state between the 60s to the 80s has seen a steady decline in its fortunes over the years. Perhaps, the biggest blow to the party came when Sashikala Kakodkar broke away from the party and joined the Congress. As the Congress grew from strength to strength, many of the prominent MGP leaders including Pratapsinh Rane and Ramakant Khalap deserted the party. An alliance with BJP in 1994 proved suicidal as the saffron outfit ate into the MGP’s traditional vote share.

The main aim of the party was to merge Goa into Maharashtra which was rejected in an Opinion Poll of 1967. Though the party continued to dominate the state politics post 1967, its ideology remained stagnant and the youth failed to identify with it. Today the MGP is like a fiefdom of the powerful Dhawalikar brothers. Though they were a part of the Congress led coalition government, the MGP broke sensing anti-incumbency and differences over the MoI issue. On the eve of the elections, the MGP has entered into a pre-poll pact with the BJP and will contest 8 seats. The polls are important for the MGP as it needs to get at least 3 seats or 95,000 votes to retain its symbol.

The Goa Vikas Party (GVP) has entered into an alliance with the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP) to provide a third alternative for the electorate. Former Tourism Minister Mickky Pacheco who broke away from the NCP after problems with the party high command and several Congress ministers, most notably Churchill Alemao. Prime accused in the Nadia murder case, Paccheo is hopeful of spoiling the prospects of several high profile candidates.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is a late entrant into Goan politics and the state unit is headed by former CM Dr. Wilfred D’Souza. D’Souza who joined the NCP few years back was hopeful of getting a Congress ticket for his son-in-law Tulio D’Souza. After it became clear that this would not happen, Willy as he is popularly known jumped over to the TMC. Amongst the party’s candidates include several former Congressmen including Sameer Salgaoncar (Mandrem), Savio Coutinho (Margao) and Bandu Desai (Valpoi). While Willy himself will contest from Aldona, Tulio has not been fielded for unknown reasons.

A surprising aspect of the BJP’s election campaign is the conscious effort to reach out to the Catholic community that makes up to 25% of the total population of the state, a traditional Congress vote bank. Parrikar has admitted that the decision to cancel the public holiday on Good Friday was a blunder. The party has also fielded a large number of fresh faces from the Catholic community including Glen Souza Ticlo (Aldona), Carlos Almeida (Vasco), Nilesh Cabral (Curchorem) and Micheal Lobo (Calangute). Besides, Matanhy Saldanha, a minister in the previous BJP government, known for being anti-Congress throughout his political career will contest from Cortalim. The party has retained its only Christian MLA Francisco D’Souza from Mapusa.

Considering that Goa is looked upon as a prestigious state, both the coalitions are putting in all efforts to win the upcoming polls. A victory here may not affect the national politics but will surely be a moral booster for the victors ahead of the other assembly elections. Meanwhile, the regional parties and the many independents are hoping to play a key role in government formation in case the electorate gives a fractured verdict. All are waiting for March 6th results that will determine as to who will be crowned the King of Goa.



SOURCES


(1) NDTV - Report on illegal Goa mining presents crisis for Chief Minister (Link)

(2) The Hindu - Parrikar hopes report on illegal mining in Goa will be tabled today (Link)

(3) Goa News - Parrikar rubbishes leaking PAC report on illegal mining (Link)

(4) Goa News - Cong-BJP field mining businessmen as candidates (Link)

(5) First Post - BJP's Pai Khot repalces Parrikar as Goa PAC chief
 (Link)

(6)  Goa News - DGP Arya transferred for targeting Russian mafia den in Morjim?
 (Link)

(7) Navhind Times - Why regional plan deserves support (Link)

(8) RTE - Goa cabinet announces English as MoI
 (Link)

(9) Goa News - Sheila justifies family tickets (Link)

(10) Goa News - Rane, Ravi, Joaquim lobby in NCP camp
 (Link)

(11) Wikipedia - Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (Link)

(12) Goa News - Trinamul picks up Sameer, Raut, Savio & Bandu
 (Link)

(13) Goa News - 'Conscious effort of BJP to reach Christians' (Link)


IMAGES


(1) Goa CM Digamber Kamat
Source: Top News - Goa chief minister asks tourists to follow 'code' for safety (Link)

(2) BJP leader Manohar Parrikar
Source: Zee News - Parrikar govt to classify mining leases in Goa (Link)

(3) Congress leader Churchill Alemao with daughter Valanka
Source: Goal - Churchill Alemao's daughter Valanka Alemao hails Balckburn's visit to India (Link)

(4) Barge carrying minerals on Mandovi river
Source: Goenche - How can we use IT Technology to solve the mining issues in Goa (Link)