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How BJP rose in Goa with Christian help

By SANDESH PRABHUDESAI
Last updated on: January 10, 2022 09:24 IST
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It is a record that the BJP has created where the majority of its legislators belonged to the minority community.
A fascinating excerpt from Sandesh Prabhudesai's Ajeeb Goa's Gajab Politics, Goa Elections: A Perspective.

IMAGE: Manohar Parrikar, who masterminded the Bharatiya Janata Party's rise in Goa. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Did the BJP manage to come to power by remaining hostile towards the Christians in a Hindu-majority Goa?

BJP leader Manohar Parrikar always called himself a proud swayamsevak of the RSS and started building the BJP in Goa in the background of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Before that, the Jan Sangh and the BJP had made three attempts since 1972 (excluding the combined effort with the Janata Party), but could not garner more than two per cent votes in any of these elections.

The saffron party also did not gain more than two per cent votes in the seven seats it contested in the 1989 assembly election. But in the 1991 Lok Sabha election, Parrikar polled 18 per cent votes in North Goa and rose up to the third position, just two per cent less than the runners-up MGP. Similarly, in South Goa, Shripad Naik polled 14 per cent votes to get to the third position.

In the 1994 assembly election, by aligning with the MGP, the BJP made a debut in the eighth assembly by winning four seats: Manohar Parrikar (Panaji), Shripad Naik (Madkai), Digambar Kamat (Margao) and Narhari Haldankar (Valpoi). It then rose to 10 seats in 1999, 17 seats in 2002 and dropping to 14 in 2007.

But the Hindutva party could acquire majority seats of 21 in the 40-member House only when the so-called 'enemies' of the RSS were made the friends of the BJP, especially the Christian community and the Muslim minorities.

Till then, the saffronites were either leading the governments with the help of Congress defectors or with the help of small parties available for political auction like the MGP, UGDP etc.

In 1994, the BJP emerged with a bang, filling the toothless opposition space occupied by the MGP. Parrikar exposed a multi-crore power scam by the then power minister Mauvin Godinho in the Rane-led Congress government. (Mauvin Godinho is now a senior minister in the BJP government!)

With a mere one-tenth of the strength of the 40-member assembly, the BJP also supported from outside the Dr Wilfred de Souza's defector-government, formed in 1998.

The Hindutva party's first love in the defection game was Dr Willy, the Goan politician known for his 'Christian politics'. His 10-member splinter group -- the Goa Rajiv Congress -- also included two other Christians MLAs, Carmo Pegado and Fatima D'Sa, besides Dayanand Narvekar, Subhash Shirodkar, Chandrakant Chodankar, Deu Mandrekar, Pandurang Bhatale, Pandu Vasu Naik and Jagdish Acharya. It lasted for only four months.

His three ministers -- Dayanand Narvekar, Subhash Shirodkar and Pandu Vasu Naik -- along with deputy speaker Deu Mandrekar split from the government that was supported by the MGP from inside and by the BJP from outside. The BJP was then quick to demand President's Rule.

With this second defection of 'homecoming', Luizinho Faleiro became the new chief minister of the Congress, but for not more than two-and-a-half months. Within 68 days, two of his ministers, 76-year old Deu Mandrekar (MLA for the third time), along with independent John Manuel Vaz withdrew their support, pushing the Faleiro government into a minority.

Dr Willy once again staked his claim with the support of the MGP and the BJP. But suddenly the BJP made a volte face, changed its strategy, and refused to support the Willy government. President's Rule was imposed on 12 February 1999.

After pulling the rug from under Dr Willy's feet, a similar strategy was played by BJP's master strategists the late Pramod Mahajan and Goa's Manohar Parrikar, when a fresh assembly election was announced in 1999. They responded positively to the initiative taken by mine owner Auduth Timblo of Fomento and prolonged the alliance talks with the MGP till the last minute.

Then, just a couple of days before the last day of nominations, they broke off the alliance talks on flimsy grounds, throwing the MGP completely off guard.

The most powerful Opposition party till yesterday had to literally hunt for candidates. The last-minute-ditching strategy worked once again as the BJP turned the tables.

The saffron brigade rose from four to 10 while the MGP reduced from 10 to four. Parrikar announced proudly: 'Though Lord Rama is our national hero, my idol in politics is Lord Krishna', obviously referring to Krishna Niti described in Hindu mythology.

Despite these serial defections, especially by the Congressmen, the Congress still rose to 21 seats, with Luizinho Faleiro once again becoming the chief minister. This was the first time the Congress had achieved the magic figure of 21 in the 40-member House.

But Faleiro was not confident about his own party colleagues. He engineered defections in all the three smaller parties in order to 'strengthen' the Congress.

Both UGDP MLAs Suresh Parulekar and Jose Philip D'Souza; Ramakant Khalap and Prakash Velip out of four from the MGP, and Francis D'Souza from the GRC, leaving its leader Dr Willy all alone, joined the Congress.

IMAGE: Parrikar takes the oath as Goa'a chief minister, March 14, 2017. Photograph: PTI Photo

But even the strength of 26 could not sustain Faleiro for more than six months. His arch-rival Francisco Sardinha split from the Congress with 10 more members, to seize the throne on 24 November 1999.

The BJP this time participated in the coalition government of defectors, except that Manohar Parrikar did not join the cabinet.

Sardinha's Goa People's Congress had seven Christian defectors: Sardinha, Alex Sequreira, Victoria Fernandes, Arecio D'Souza, Francis Silveira, Francis D'Souza, and Mauvin Godinho, whose power scam the BJP had exposed just two years earlier.

But Sardinha's defector government buckled within nine months due to Parrikar's Krishna Niti. In October 2000, Parrikar engineered defections in Sardinha's GPC as well as more defections in the 'original' Congress.

Khalap and Velip defected for the second time within nine months from the GPC while Ravi Naik, Shaikh Hassan Haroon, Babu Azgaonkar, and Sanjay Bandekar split from the Congress to join the BJP.

Parrikar's 14-member cabinet included two Christians and one Muslim: Filipe Neri Rodrigues, Jose Philip D'Souza and Shaikh Hassan Haroon. But the defection activity had not stopped.

Sensing trouble from within his cabinet to topple his one-and-a-half-year old government, Parrikar surprised the whole opportunistic political world of Goa.

He suddenly moved into action on 27 February 2002 by convening an emergency cabinet meeting at the International Centre Goa (much closer to the Raj Bhavan than the Panaji secretariat) and rushed to the governor at Cabo, recommending dissolution of the two-and- a-half-year-old assembly.

Though his letter claimed that the premature dissolution was recommended by the cabinet, the cabinet members were totally in the dark. They heard about it from us: The media.

Opposition Leader Luizinho Faleiro alleged that the dissolution was not on the official agenda of the cabinet. But it simply didn't matter to the governor since who mattered as per the Constitution was the chief minister, not his council of ministers. The governor was bound to implement the cabinet recommendation.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was heading the BJP government at the Centre at this moment and Mohammed Fazal, a BJP loyalist, was the Goa governor. With the Centre's blessings, Parrikar managed to continue as a caretaker government with his entire cabinet, until a fresh election was held on 30 May 2002, coincidentally on Goa Statehood Day!

After that the BJP changed its entire political strategy. It had realised that the Hindutva religious card didn't work in Goa.

IMAGE: Former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat. Photograph: PTI Photo

Parrikar, during his short stint, had performed very well, especially in financial management by presenting some brilliant budgets and raising revenue locally by filling the loopholes. He had also filled the public treasury through non-tax revenue, which had not been revised by his Congress predecessors for two to three decades.

Parrikar thus made Good Governance his main plank and pushed his Soft Hindutva strategy under the carpet. This proud RSS swayamsevak had skilfully revamped his image as a minority-friendly political leader.

In 1999, the BJP had fielded only four candidates from the minorities, in the Christian-dominated constituencies of Old Conquests, especially in Tiswadi, Mormugao, and Salcete talukas.

However, in the 2002 assembly poll, the BJP fielded eight minority candidates (out of 39) in the four talukas of the Old Conquests.

Parrikar became the CM once again on 3 June 2002, with the BJP rising to 17 seats in a hung assembly. It was one seat more than the 16-member Congress.

With the BJP still ruling at the Centre, he formed the government with the support of the three-member UGDP, two-member MGP and Independent Filipe Neri Rodrigues. He had four Christian ministers: Francisco D'Souza from the BJP, Babush Monserrate and Mickky Pacheco from the UGDP and Filipe Neri, the independent.

After Mickky was dropped from the cabinet in June 2004, Matanhy Saldanha from the UGDP was accommodated. To strengthen his government, Parrikar engineered defections once again, with Madkaikar quitting the MGP, Babush quitting the UGDP and Isidore Fernandes from the Congress. They were made ministers, increasing the strength of the Christian ministers by two more.

Then in some dramatic incidents witnessed in the assembly, including the physical eviction of Filipe Neri by the police from the House, the Parrikar government was reduced to a minority within two years and eight months.

It began with Parrikar dropping Babush from the ministry. That led to Madkaikar and Isidore quitting the BJP. Then Mickky joined the BJP and quit it in one day, claiming that he believed in front-stabbing, not back-stabbing.

The coalition partners -- the MGP and Filipe Neri Rodrigues -- withdrew support to the government. While the newly sworn in Congress government led by Pratapsingh Rane was in trouble due to disqualifications and other vexing issues, the three-time BJP MLA Digambar Kamat came to his rescue.

Claiming that he had been suffocating in the Hindutva party all those years, he quit the BJP. It is known as the Ghusmat episode in the history of Goan politics!

IMAGE: Then Goa governor Mridula Sinha, right, administers the oath of the office to Pramod Sawant as chief minister, March 19, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

In the 2007 election, the BJP slipped down to 14, the Congress rose to 16 in a hung assembly once again. With illegal mining booming, mines minister Digambar Kamat rose to become CM and Parrikar became the Opposition leader for five long years, without any toppling or defection taking place despite a hung assembly. The BJP fielded only four Christian candidates, of which only Francis D'Souza won.

Riding over the rampant illegal mining, which was later estimated by the Justice Shah Commission to be to the tune of Rs 35,000 crores, Kamat impressed the Goan populace by presenting an alternate environment-friendly Regional Plan prepared by a Task Force led by Goa-born internationally famed architect Charles Correa.

Kamat also scrapped the five Special Economic Zones, which were exposed as a real estate land scam. However, on the other hand, the unabated destruction of the hinterland and even the Sahyadri Ghat continued, until the Supreme Court banned Goa's mining activity in 2012. Parrikar, as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, had exposed the illegal mining steered by Kamat.

The Opposition leader also led the agitation against Medium of Instruction when Kamat continued government grants to the 127 English medium primary schools run by the Church. It was directly in contravention of the government policy of 1992 not to give government grants to English medium schools. Accordingly all the Church schools had switched over to Konkani medium. But no government had followed its preventive clause not to permit new English medium private primary schools.

Private English schools kept mushrooming with the blessings of the double-standard politicians. This duplicity resulted in the increasing trend of parents sending their children to English medium primary schools.

This exodus drastically affected the strength of the Konkani schools run by the Church. After running Konkani schools for two long decades, the Church-run Diocesan Society of Education finally decided to switch back to the English medium.

Digambar Kamat assured to continue their salary grants. A state-wide agitation began against this, led by Konkani leaders, who joined hands with the Sangh Parivar. Parrikar also joined the agitation of the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch to oppose the Church.

In spite of this, the Church came in support of Parrikar and his BJP in the 2012 assembly election, in order to teach a lesson to the corrupt and defector-driven Congress, which was taking the Christian community for granted.

In the 2012 election, the BJP strategically contested only 28 seats, by supporting the Mickky-led Goa Vikas Party in Salcete, as well as three independents. In addition, the Hindutva party fielded six Christian candidates. All of them won. The BJP won 21 seats, besides the two GVP MLAs as well as the two independents it had supported.

Since then, the BJP in Goa has been holding its fort with the help of Christians. In the last election held in 2017, the BJP slipped down to 13 while the Congress rose from nine to 17, once again in a hung assembly.

Out of these 13, seven MLAs were Christians. Perhaps it is a record that the saffron party has created in India, where the majority of its legislators belonged to the minority community.

Both the BJP and the Church were soft to each other. Due to this and the BJP being in power at the centre, Parrikar managed to fly the tricolour flag on the banks of river Mandovi on Independence Day, once again by using the crutches of the power-hungry regional outfits. He moved down to Goa, leaving the influential defence ministry of the country, to hold the reins of power.

Excerpted from Ajeeb Goa's Gajab Politics, Goa Elections: A Perspective by Sandesh Prabhudesai, with the author's kind permission.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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