'Is the Congress left with any face to talk about criminals in politics?
Churchill Braz 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
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
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,
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.