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'Is the Congress left with any face to talk about criminals in politics?

Churchill Braz Alemao.

Churchill Alemao

A decade ago, the name and the image it conjured was unsavoury. Today, he is the hero of the people, the political saviour of Goa.

His love for football is legendary. His football teams - Churchill Brothers and Varca Sports Club - are among the toughest teams in the country. He takes an equal interest in dhirio,Goa's traditional bullfights. His generosity ensures that no one leaves his home in Varca empty-handed and he is believed to be have more concern for the needy than many Goa politicians.

And yet it is said his name figures prominently in the federal home ministry's list of unsavoury characters. His brother Alvernaz was killed by a customs officer some years ago, allegedly while carrying smuggled gold, on the day his friends and relatives were preparing to attend his youngest brother Kennedy's wedding.

In 1990, within 75 days of entering the state assembly, Alemao toppled Pratapsing Rane's Congress government, formed a coalition with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and became Goa's first Catholic chief minister.

In the 1994 assembly election, his United Goans Democratic Party won only three seats, but built a following among lower caste Catholics, traditionally a Congress vote bank.

Two years later, despite being detained along with his brother in a gold smuggling case, he was elected to Parliament from South Goa, defeating former federal minister Eduardo Faleiro who had represented the constituency for almost twenty years.

Goa may be known for communal harmony. But politics in the beach state is clearly divided on religious lines. Churchill Alemao is perhaps the first Catholic leader who has successfully made a breakthrough in Hindu areas.

Sandesh Prabhudesai met him at the Goa Renaissance. Excerpts from the conversation:.

You were once branded an anti-national because of your alleged smuggling activities. Why do you think the people, who once abused you thus, have now reposed faith in you?

Who told you I am a smuggler ? Have I been convicted for smuggling? It's a clear-cut political conspiracy. They knew Churchill's mobilising power and sincerity. That's why they tried to mislead the people by branding me a smuggler. They even put me behind bars. But they didn't succeed. The truth has prevailed.

If this is not the truth, then why did you tell tall stories about your life?

These are not tall stories. It's a bitter truth the way I lived and came up. I have no regret that I was a dropout at 16. We were six brothers and I am the eldest. To fight poverty I started washing utensils at a village tea shop. Then I joined the Goa Shipyard as a casual labourer on a daily wage of Rs 5. The technicians used to stand on me, sometimes for hours together, using me as a ladder.

Then I went to Bombay in 1966, working as a helper for parties held in five star hotels, including the Taj. I even worked as a welder in a mill, earning Rs 1,000 per month. But I had to rush back to Goa as the work made me critically ill. I then boarded a ship as a sailor, starting on a monthly salary of Rs 250. I worked there for 15 years, with which I bought my first fishing trawler, It brought me a fortune. Telling this to the people helps them come closer to me.

Goa's Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane says no criminal, including a smuggler, should be allowed to contest elections. It's obvious he is talking about you.

This is the usual trick of Congressmen. Call others criminals and hide your own criminal acts. But is the Congress left with any face to talk about criminals in politics? They are the biggest criminals.

To brand me a criminal, they even detained me under COFEPOSA. But I was released without any charges being proven. I challenge you to prove that I was convicted in a single case.

I fully agree that no criminal should be allowed to contest elections. But only if they are convicted. Otherwise, anyone could be barred from contesting by filing false cases. I am confident that only the United Front government can bring these reforms. They have no criminal elements.

What about Phoolan Devi? Would you call her a criminal?

Definitely. She has killed people. She has transformed herself now. But it cannot justify your criminal acts. It is also a fact that society forced her to become a criminal and a dacoit. But she remains a criminal as far as her past record is concerned. Transformation should not be made a criteria to contest elections.

It is said some history-sheeters have entered the Lok Sabha this time. What's your experience with them? Do you find them more humane than the others?

We are all sinners. There are many politicians in Parliament who are actually criminal in nature. See Sukh Ram. He was a god for the Congress till yesterday. What is his fate today ? There must be many such criminals sitting in the House, but they are not the branded ones. You just wait for some days. All such hidden criminals will be exposed.

You were tipped to be a minister. But MGP MP Ramakant Khalap scored over you at the last minute. What conspired between whom, due to which you lost the opportunity?

Congress leader Sharad Pawar came to his rescue. Otherwise, everyone in Delhi knew that he was trying for a berth in the BJP government. He is known to be a communal person in Goa. But more than that, he is an opportunist. Today he is sitting in the UF government as a Congressman, with Pawar's blessings.

But you supported him during the election...

True. I helped him to defeat the Congress. But he gave a letter to the central leaders that I am a smuggler. I told them to prove it. Can there be a funeral without a dead body ? Khalap is not a person to be relied upon. He ditched me.

Do you consider H D Deve Gowda your leader?

Yes, as long as he is prime minister.

How long do you feel the UF government will survive? And whom will you support if the government collapses?

Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Is politics a stable and reliable game? God knows whom I'll support if this government falls. But one thing is clear -- I'll neither support the BJP nor the Congress. It would be some or other component of the National Front-Left Front.

What about tourism?

How can I forget tourism ? It's a gold mine for Goans. But the government has not planned it properly. We can earn a lot of foreign exchange on it, especially if we encourage upmarket tourism. What's the use of getting masons and carpenters by charter flights? You can kill two birds in one stone if upmarket tourism is stressed upon.

We can run the state without taxing the people if enough amount of revenue is collected from the infrastructure facilities we provide the tourists.

But the five star hotel lobby is not happy with the ban on construction within 200 metres from the High Tide Line.

I don't know what they feel. But I personally feel the ban is hampering our tourism development. Foreigners come here to enjoy our beaches. Who would like to come here if hotels are far away from the beaches? The hotels should be spread all along the coastline.

What about the casinos?

The most sensible decision of the Congress government. It'll give big relief to the locals, in terms of employment as well as taxes. The government could be run with the revenue on casinos alone. It can be diverted for development schemes. N T Rama Rao diverted funds from others schemes to sell rice for Rs 2. But with casinos, you can sell rice for Rs 2 while implementing all the schemes. It'll also provide good business for tourist taxis and 12-month employment in the hotels, without any break in the off season.

But what if the local population gets addicted to gambling?

You restrict their entry. Don't allow any Indian unless he pays Rs 200,000 as the membership fee. Indians should not be allowed to play even on the slot machines at five star hotels if such fees are not paid.

And one more thing. The decision to have offshore casinos is useless. We should have casinos on the shore.

The Opposition calls it 'sinful money'. Does it suit our Indian traditions to make money on gambling?

What traditions you are talking about ? It's all over the world since ages. We simply make it a moralistic issue. The BJP tried to stop one-digit lotteries in Delhi on the same grounds, but the court allowed it.

They also say it would boost prostitution. It's all bogus. Our women may be poor, but not of immoral character. And they come here to gamble, not for such kind of fun. They are decent people, you know.

Is prostitution good?

Presume it is bad. But imagine if prostitution is actually banned. The militarymen and sailors would finish our women. Sexual urge is a natural instinct. Prostitution is a remedy for it. We should not suppress such things.

They say AIDS cases will increase after casinos are allowed. It's a foolish argument. Nowadays science tells us what is TB, cancer AIDS etc. God knows for how long AIDS existed in India and how many people died of it. They are scared of rapes. But there are more cases of our own people raping Goan girls. In fact, our own people raped the hippies roaming nude on the Goa beaches.

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