Goa Chief Minister and BJP leader Pramod Sawant’s remark that “temples destroyed by the Portuguese need to be rebuilt to preserve the Hindu culture” has stirred a hornets’ nest ahead of the Goa Assembly elections slated early next year.
While the comment has drawn flak from the Congress and other opposition parties, the remarks may be reflective of the BJP’s strategy in Goa which appears to combine Hindu and Konkani symbolism.
According to a Panjim-based analyst, the BJP’s ploy appears to be to consolidate the Hindu majority bloc while pushing away the Catholic Christian minorities away from it. The 2011 census shows that the Hindu population is more than 65% while the Christian population has declined below 30%, to around 25%.
Parrikar’s key role
“The late Manohar Parrikar had managed to walk the tightrope effortlessly by keeping the party base intact as well as winning the goodwill of the Christian populace. However, the BJP leadership’s policy appears to please the Hindu majority by sidelining Catholic Christian voters. It thinks the Hindu voters now have the majority in both north and south Goa districts,” said the analyst. He adds that in 2017, 70% of Catholic Christians voted en masse for the BJP in 27 seats owing to Parrikar’s goodwill.
Resignation of MLAs
The analyst points to the recent resignation of two BJP MLAs — Alina Saldanha and Carlos Almeida — from the party as evidence of the BJP’s Hindu vote bank consolidation stratagem.
Ms. Saldanha, MLA from Cortalim who had served as a Minister in the Parrikar-led Cabinet, had quit the BJP to join Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party citing ‘loss of principles’ in the BJP. She had criticised the saffron party for pursuing “destructive, anti-people policies and creating bedlam” in the coastal State.
Mr. Almeida, a two-time MLA from the Vasco da Gama constituency in south Goa, left the BJP along with seven councillors to join the Congress.
“I have seen the BJP closely. It is no longer the party it was when Parrikar was alive and who I regard as my ‘guru’,” said Mr. Almeida after his induction in the Congress. He said Parrikar’s policy of awarding tickets to minorities had stood the BJP in good stead in the 2012 and 2017 Assembly elections.
In November, the Vasco MLA had urged the BJP’s top brass to continue Parrikar’s policy of giving adequate representation to minorities, urging the party heads to allot 35% seats to Catholic candidates. Stating that he was happy to join the Congress, a “secular party”, Mr. Almeida asserted that the people of Vasco were unhappy as the port town had seen no development under the BJP rule.
Goa-based academic and analyst Manoj Kamat, however, says politics along purely communal lines has never really worked in Goa.
“The majority and minorities have by and large had a long history of communal harmony in the State. While the BJP may have tried to play the communal card in the State, as evinced in the Curchorem-Sanvordem incident in March 2006 [where a mob demolished a madrasa], it has not been successful in rupturing the State’s diverse social fabric,” opines Mr. Kamat.
According to him, Goa’s voters have never considered religion as a factor while exercising their franchise, nor have political parties, including the BJP, when poaching a candidate from other parties.
He points to the cases of Jennifer Monserrate, who was one of the 10 Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP in 2019 and was made Minister for Revenue and IT under Mr. Sawant. Likewise, two-time MLA Nilesh Cabral, despite being a Sangh outsider, has been the minority face of the BJP and been promoted within the party ranks.
“The BJP in Goa is like a ruthless corporate giant, viewing potential candidates as a ‘product’ which are ‘saleable’, by which it acquires or drops a candidate as per his or her winnability. It is not particularly worried about whether the morale of the so-called ‘loyalist cadre’ is affected by the import of outsiders … Ms. Saldanha and Mr. Almeida were most likely sidelined as the party thought they could not win this time around,” says Mr. Kamat.
‘Bid to divert attention’
Meanwhile, reacting to Mr. Sawant’s temple rebuilding remark, Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Girish Chodankar said the Chief Minister’s statement was a last throw of the dice on the BJP’s part to divert Goans’ attention from its misgovernance.
“Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is suddenly remembering God, temple and religion because he can foresee his and the BJP’s defeat in the coming Assembly elections … why didn’t the BJP build these temples [destroyed by the Portuguese] when they were in power in the last 10 years?” asked Mr. Chodankar.
Interestingly, as campaigning in the coastal State heats up, the BJP is not the only party being viewed as socially divisive.
On Friday, former Ponda MLA Lavoo Mamledar quit the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, accusing it of being “communal” and trying to divide “Goans on the basis of religion”.
Mr. Mamledar, who left the Trinamool along with four others after penning a strongly worded letter to Ms. Banerjee, said the West Bengal-based party was “worse than the BJP”.