Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let the carnival of politics begin

(First appeared in The Pioneer dated January 19, 2011)


Conventional wisdom says: Too many cooks spoil the broth. But clinging to conventional wisdom will become an obstacle for those who wish to understand the politics of Goa and enjoy its roller-coaster ride. So, tie your seat-belts, leave logic aside and have fun as the voters of the State prepare to elect their 40 representatives from a large and colourful bunch of candidates to the Assembly on March 3. Because, in Goa, ‘the more the merrier’ rules the ballot box more than anything else.

The battlefield has the more known faces who have been returning again and again either to retain seats or win them. But there are also those who are untested and new to electoral politics. So, rubbing shoulders with hardboiled political veterans like former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and incumbent Chief Minister Digambar Kamat is the greenhorn Father Bismarck Dias, a Catholic priest who will now issue sermons to the voters on good governance and confess to his desire to be an MLA. But banish the thought that he represents the powerful Catholic Church as its candidate. The Church does not need to be heard in the ordinary portals of the State Assembly when it has a direct connect with the Good Lord. Never mind the fact that the Church has played a more than spiritual role in the recent past, dabbling in all sorts of agitations — the anti-Konkan Railway movement and the emotionally-charged and at times violent protests to make Konkani the sole official language of the State, being just two of those — that had a political tilt.

Fr Dias has been fielded by a clutch of social organisations which believes that a great deal of social good would be done if one of its own sits in the hallowed precincts of the House — now housed for some years in a glittering new complex across Mandovi river in Porvorim, a stone’s throw away from the capital town of Panaji (or Panjim). Even before he wins or loses, he has created a record that even the Church would be proud of: Fr Dias has become the first Christian priest to contest an election in the State. Amen!

At a more material level, it makes sense for the priest to throw his hat (or the robe) into the electoral ring. The non-Government organisations have been for long having a field day in Goa because, tiny though the State is, it is filled to the brim with people dissatisfied with a range of issues — from political to civic to social. The NGOs believe that the citizens who have vociferously backed them on their various movements would now, as voters, put their votes where their mouth is. The State waits with bated breath, and Fr Dias will do so almost breathlessly, for the outcome of the poll.

Of course, few expect the NGOs to win enough seats to mark their presence in the Assembly, but political parties are still wary because the candidates being put up can eat into their votes enough to make a difference between victory and defeat.

One shudders to think how dull Goa’s politics would have been without the likes of the bandana-sporting Mickey Pachecho, former Minister for Tourism and now chief of Goa Vikas Party, an outfit that he has floated after being ousted from the Cabinet over allegations of his involvement in the mysterious death of a female friend. He has in the past briefly flirted with the BJP and been with the Nationalist Congress Party.

He will be remembered for the infamous quote that he allegedly made: Goa has become the rape ‘city’ of the country. Nobody remembers him for any substantial contribution that he may have made as a Minister or politician — though to discover that achievement would in itself be something of an achievement. Yet, he is crucial to maintaining the breezy image the State’s politics has.

In this election, though, he is poised to play the spoiler for the Congress. Mr Pachecho has a fan following of considerable size in the southern belt of Salcete taluka dominated by Christians, who have traditionally been Congress voters. It is also a region that has seen the maximum amount of vote divisions among smaller outfits, which has denied the Congress the sweep that it ought to be making, going strictly by the taluka’s demography. By default, then, the BJP could be the beneficiary.

The Congress may consider him a baggage that has been well rid of, but the party has burdened itself with another kind of baggage in the form of the portly Jitendra Deshprabhu. A landlord of some stature, he owns an acid tongue that has singed many an opponent of his. For some reason he suddenly left — or was compelled to do so by circumstances — the Congress and joined hands with the Nationalist Congress Party to unsuccessfully contest the Lok Sabha election.

Meanwhile, he has spent a fortnight in jail on charges of his association with illegal mining and has been fined more than a crore of rupees over the issue. On the eve of Assembly election and with cases going on against him, he has returned to the Congress to contest. The party has taken the line that the law will take its own course. But both Mr Deshprabhu and the Congress have taken recourse to opportunism. That should not be surprising; after all, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat too is charged with complicity in the rampant illegal mining that is destroying the State and yet he leads the party’s election campaign.

What has added to the Congress’s misery is the decision of the Trinamool Congress to put up its candidates in a bid to divide the Congress’s vote share. The party in the State is led by an old political warhorse, Wilfred de Souza. A surgeon by training and politician by choice, de Souza is a former Congressman and Chief Minister and shares a decent equation with the BJP leader, Mr Parrikar. He can also wreck the Congress.

All of this leaves the BJP in a rather happy position, except that it has some problems of its own. The cold war between two of its tallest leaders in the State, leader of Opposition Manohar Parrikar and member of Lok Sabha from North Goa Sripad Naik, has been somewhat of a dampener to what is otherwise an upbeat BJP camp. A sulking Mr Naik is not accompanying the former Chief Minister on the latter’s Jan sampark abhiyaan. The two were recently seen for a while during senior party leader Arun Jaitley’s visit to the State, but thereafter have remained confined to their respective support groups.

Mr Naik wants to return to active politics in the State and contest the election, but Mr Parrikar’s camp believes that, if the MP is allowed to return to his ‘roots’, he could become a parallel power-centre, thus damaging the party in the State.

Nevertheless, the BJP can look forward to some benefits from its expected alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, which has a large following especially in North Goa. Although nowhere near its peak — the MGP governed Goa for a little less than two decades since the State was liberated in 1961 — and thereafter splintered many times beyond recognition, it continues to remain a political force that can brighten the BJP’s prospects.

One month from now, electioneering will have reached a feverish pitch in Goa. The State will also be in the grip of Carnival festivities. With two carnivals going on simultaneously, the people of Goa could not have asked for more.

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