ACCESSIBLE: Digambar Kamat is the most people-friendly chief minister
since Dayanand Bandodkar
Of all the aspirants to the chief minister’s post – the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party’s self-nominated Sudhin Dhavalikar; babu-turned-politician Elvis Gomes; Manohar Parrikar, the dictator who is the popular choice of the Bharatiya Janata Party; Luizinho Faleiro, who is desperate to occupy the kodel for a full term – the most people-friendly, and truly secular and democratic is Margao MLA and former Congress chief minister Digambar Kamat
By Rajan Narayan
OF all the chief ministers I have interacted with in the 34 years that I have been monitoring politics and elections in Goa, I believe that Digambar Kamat is the most people-friendly of them all. He also has been most sensitive to opinions and views of the electorate in Goa. Unlike the super arrogant Pratap Singh Raoji Rane, who terrified even his own cabinet colleagues and insisted they could only meet him by prior appointment, in comparison Digambar Kamat was accessible to aam aadmi and aurat 24×7 365 days a year.
I recall once calling him up at 3am to complain that power supply at my residence had stopped. If I could not sleep because of the summer heat in the absence of a working fan, why should he, Goa’s Power minister, sleep in peace?
Digambar Kamat listened to me patiently and directed the chief electrical engineer to take action to restore my power immediately. He did this not only for me but for anybody who appealed to him even if they called him on his mobile phone late in the night. Manohar Parrikar, inflicted the Regional Plan (RP) 2011 to oblige the ‘Monster Rat of Taleigao’ Babush Monserrate, which was aimed at converting Goa into a concrete jungle. In contrast Digambar Kamat listened to the voice of the people. When the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) under the leadership of Dr Oscar Rebello and architect Dean D’Cruz among lakhs of others, demanded the scrapping of RP 2011, Kamat, who had succeeded Rane as chief minister, set up a high-level panel under world renowned architect late Charles Correa and India’s former chief town planner Edgar Ribeiro, both proud sons of Goa
When the committee led by Correa, with GBA representatives and other stake holders, formulated the draft RP 2021, Digambar Kamat accepted the first ever model of sustainable grassroots regional plan in the world. It is another matter that some village groups, rightly perhaps, objected to some changes made in the draft plan when it was notified just before the Kamat-led Congress term ended.
GRANTS FOR ALL
YET again when the Church and Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao went to him and explained their difficulties with regard to the medium of instruction (MOI), it was Digambar Kamat who instructed the education department to continue the grants even though the schools had switched from Devnagiri Konkani to English medium. The Church explained that enrolment in Devnagiri Konkani schools had fallen sharply and since everyone even in the villages were demanding English-medium schools, the shift had to be made. They could not run English-medium schools in the villages where students were poor without grants from the government. Unlike Parrikar, Kamat did not make U-turns. As chief minister, he extended grants to English-medium primary schools. On the contrary, Parrikar joined hands with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) and the opposed grants, but made a U-turn when he returned to power and formally continued grants to English-medium schools.
It was not only the Catholic minority community whom Digambar Kamat went out of his way to help. Though the Muslim minority community has witnessed an increase in population from less than one per cent at the time of liberation to almost nine per cent in 2017, no politician with the exception of Kamat took an interest in their problems, which included such sensitive issues as finding enough space to build mosques and madrasas. And even more sadly, Muslims have had to fight for land to bury their dead. Ironically unlike other parts of India where the opposition to Muslims has come from the Hindu majority community, in Nehru’s ‘ajeeb Goa’ the opposition comes from the Christian community. This is because most of the new waves of migrants settled in south Goa in areas like Raia, Navelim and Curtorim, close to Margao where most of them work. The local Catholic population does not want to give the Muslim community any land to bury their dead. The only land offered was next to the Sonssodo garbage dump.
ADMITTEDLY Digambar Kamat has also gained from his close relationship with the Muslim community. Moti Dongor in Margao which is a slum with a Muslim majority population of almost 2,500 votes has been his strong hold. Residents have been voting him, and now even Vijay Sardessai, back to power in every election. In turn Kamat arranged for water supply and power for the Muslim community, built a school and tried to find jobs for them.
Besides, being a janta raja in the real sense of the words and not like the one depicted in the popular Shivaji Maharaj play, Digambar Kamat was always available to the people. More importantly, he was always responsive and sensitive to their sentiments. When the notorious RP 2011 aimed at destroying green Goa was notified, there was a revolt. The people of Goa came together under the GBA. I still remember the small meeting of less than 50 people who got together at Don Bosco School in Panjim to consider how to oppose and have the RP 2011 withdrawn.
It was at this meeting that Dr Oscar Rebello was elected GBA chairperson on Lata Bhatikar’s suggestion. The GBA became a mass movement because of the tireless efforts of architects Dean D’Cruz, Reboni Saha and Ritu Pandit, who went from village to village, explaining how much damage would be caused if RP 2011 was not withdrawn. The movement attracted lakhs of Goans. In similar circumstances, dictators like Pratap Singh Raoji Rane and Parrikar would have tried to suppress opposition. It is to Digambar Kamat’s credit that he impressed upon the then chief minister Rane to withdraw the RP 2011. It is even more creditable that he accepted the recommendation of the committee headed by Correa and Ribeiro to adopt a new RP 2021. Unfortunately at the time of its notification, the hotel industry managed to make changes which provided for development of eco-tourism. Kamat was willing to discuss with the groups concerned and address them. But the elections came and the Congress party lost power, being reduced to only nine seats in the 40-member assembly.
IF JANATA raja Digambar Kamat had returned to power, the problems with the RP 2021 would have been sorted out within three or four months and the new RP 2021 would have been notified. When village groups raised objections to the RP 2021 notification, Parrikar assured them that if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power, he would withdraw it, modify it and re-notify it within six months. More than four years later, the BJP has yet to notify RP 2021. On the contrary, the dishonest BJP government has approved the eco-tourism projects which violate Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) and pollution control rules through the illegal Investment Promotion Board (IPB) set up by Parrikar’s successor Laxmikant Parsekar.
Among the projects approved by the IPB in the name of eco-tourism is a mega project in Sanguem promoted by the Parrikar’s son, Abhijat Parrikar, incidentally the son-in-law of the brother of Dr Jagannath (Desh) Prabhudessai, president of the Goa Builders Association. Because of the BJP’s gross negligence and indifference, Goa still does not have a regional plan. Permission for conversions are being given on the basis of RP 2001, which is 17 years old. Worse still, on the eve of the forthcoming polls, the BJP-appointed chairmen of the Planning & Development Authority (PDA) of Panjim, North Goa, Mormugoa, Margao and Ponda, notified outline development plans (ODPs) which seek to hugely increase the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) without taking into account the lack of infrastructure. The dalals or brokers who passed the ODPs were chairman of North Goa PDA Michael Lobo, and the notorious chairman of South Goa PDA Mauvin Godinho. Margao escaped only because its MLA Digambar Kamat, along with Vijay Sardessai, objected to its ODP notification, which was finalised without discussion with the municipality just before the election.
It was Pratap Singh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro during their chief ministerial tenures who imposed special economic zones (SEZ) on Goa. The SEZ were proposed by the central government to increase job opportunities. Units set up in the SEZ were to be given many tax concessions. The Rane and Faleiro governments acquired huge amounts of agricultural orchard and forest land from the aam aadmi under this project. But unlike in other parts of India, the land was allotted not to industrialists who would create jobs but to land sharks for real estate projects.
Once again Goans came together under the SEZ Virodh Manch to oppose the allotment of land to land sharks. The worst part of the acquisition and allotment of land to parties like Cipla and the Rahejas was that it was made on the personal recommendation of Rane, Faleiro and industry minister Aleixo Sequeira. Their agent was Babu Kavlekar, chairperson of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). The allotments made were illegal and did not generate a single job.
When the SEZ action committee, much like the GBA, got the support of lakhs of Goans and demanded the cancellation of the illegally allotted land plots, Digambar Kamat readily obliged. As chief minister, he cancelled the allotments to the land sharks who were gifted huge quantities of land for token amounts by earlier Congress governments. When this was challenged in court and verdicts were given in favour of the land sharks, he got the SEZ policy adopted during Rane’s chief ministership scrapped.
Even though it is more than four years since the BJP returned to power, the land given to the land sharks under the SEZ policy has not been recovered, even though the BJP is in power at the centre and state. Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar has not done anything to defend the interests of the people whose land was grabbed. On the contrary, he talks about a compromise with land sharks for projects already cleared by the Ministry of Commerce.
Before Parrikar became the chief minister and the BJP formed the government, there was a proposal to move at least some casinos to the River Sal in south Goa. In fact, the Leela Group – original owners of Deltin Royal now owned by businessman Jaydev Mody – berthed the casino in the Sal for over three months. In view of protests from fishermen, Digambar Kamat issued an order to move the offshore casino to the Mandovi river.
The maximum number of casino licenses were issued during the tenure of the BJP government. The manifesto of the BJP is the only one which says that the casinos will continue to operate if it comes back to power. Laxmikant Parsekar has said on record that ‘they helped us when we needed money, so we cannot abandon them’. The Congress is the only party which has called for the complete removal of casinos from Goa in its manifesto for the 2017 Assembly elections.
THESE days when an aam aadmi is arrested for questioning the promises of former chief minister and current Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, it is important to stress Digambar Kamat’s infinite tolerance to criticism. At a time when respectable academics and rationalists are murdered for expressing opinions not approved of by Sangh Parivar, it is all the more important to have a janata raja who recognises the rights of public to question his decisions. As recently as two weeks ago, a BJP activist was arrested for asking Parrikar embarrassing questions. Earlier the Defence minister described all those who questioned his surgical strike as ‘anti-national’, even though later he himself admitted that there was no surgical strike and that the Indian army had just crossed the line of control.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
PRIME minister Narendra Modi does not openly attack journalists, unlike Donald Trump who has taken over as the president of the United States. He may not have used the word “journalist” or described them as the most dishonest people in the world, all of which Trump did just because the media insisted that less than half-a-million attended his inauguration and swearing in compared to over two million for Barack Obama’s. However, Modi is responsible for some top independent journalists like Rajdeep Sardessai, Shekar Gupta and even loudmouth Arnab Goswami being sacked because they opposed and criticised him.
In Goa, I have attacked all chief ministers. I did not spare Digambar Kamat. I criticised him for tolerating corrupt MLAs. I repeatedly attacked him during the agitation for scrapping RP 2021. I did not spare any opportunity to expose his decisions I thought were not in public interest. I even carried a cartoon showing him as a small schoolboy putting up his hand as though he wanted to go to the loo, to stress how he would have to consult Sonia Gandhi when asked questions.
Despite this, he inaugurated an exhibition where the cartoon making fun of him was put up. At the release of my book ‘Triumph of Secularism, Battle of the Opinion Poll in Goa’, Digambar Kamat candidly remarked that Rajan Narayan keeps attacking me and saying all kinds of things about me, but I still respect him as an honest journalist who has written a good book. He never stopped my ads, unlike the BJP government, or ban me from writing books for the Department of Culture like the BJP has done.
In contrast, when I criticised then Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) chief Luizinho Faleiro, he sent a letter to my then proprietor, and I got a note ordering me not to write about him. Parrikar was worse. When the Herald carried a report of a press conference by Faleiro who had alleged that Parrikar had favoured his brother-in-law in settling a loan he had taken from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Parrikar sent a legal notice to all editors and publishers not to carry any news items from Faleiro. When I wrote a story about the interference of Vijaya Devi Rane in the functioning of the Kala Academy, her husband and former chief minister Pratap Singh Rane asked then Herald owner A C Fernandes to sack me. In my experience, Kamat is the only chief minister who truly respected and upheld the freedom of the press.
There are many political leaders who have been projected as the chief ministerial candidate in the run up to the elections to the Goa Assembly on February 4. The BJP has virtually declared that the chief minister or at least the remote control will be in Parrikar’s hands. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) alliance is projecting Sudin Dhavalikar, a very corrupt Public Works Department (PWD) minister with links with the fanatical Sanatan Sanstha, as chief minister. It is clear that Faleiro wants to become chief minister if the Congress gets a majority. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is projecting Elvis Gomes, a good man but with no political experience, who will be under the control of party convenor Arvind Kejriwal.
What of the charges of corruption against Digambar Kamat? The charge that he was guilty of converting mining concessions into leases with retrospective effect; that he was responsible for the `35,000 crore worth of losses allegedly caused through illegal mining; that he received a major kickbacks in the Luis Berger deal, the consultant to infrastructure work financed by the Japanese International Co-operation Agreement (JICA). What of the other charges levelled by Parrikar out of sheer vindictiveness?
GERMAN dictator Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels practiced the diabolical strategy of making lies sound like truth by constantly repeating them. It is the same principle that Parrikar applied to not only Digambar Kamat but all those he considered his enemies, including me. Kamat bore the brunt because he had the courage to protest against the condonation of the corruption of Babush Monserrate and company, and quit the BJP.
Kamat was not the only chief minister who retrospectively converted mining concessions into leases. Every chief minister has done it from Pratap Singh Rane to current Defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
There were many mine owners who did not choose to avail of the offer of the Ministry of mines to convert their concessions into leases as the price of ore did not make it viable. When the Chinese boom came in, the demand for low grade ore made it sensible to reopen the mines. It was for the benefit of mine owners left out that Kamat agreed to retrospectively convert the concessions into leases.
He was in no way responsible for the `35,000 crore alleged to have been stolen by mine owners due to illegal mining as claimed by the Shah commission. In fact, the Supreme Court itself has reduced the estimate to `3,500 crore. The Parrikar government has not even filed an FIR against Digambar Kamat. Similar is the case with the Luis Berger scam which is based on the verdict of a foreign court. Conventionally the bail order granted by a district court is not challenged by the government except with the object of harassing the individual concerned.
Parrikar is pursuing a vendetta against not only Digambar Kamat, but all those presumed to be associated with him. Even Class 4 staff, teachers and clerks are not being spared. There have been cases of transfers, stoppage of promotions and endless harassment against innocent government servants for the crime of being part of the Kamat administration.
I am personally aware how vindictive Parrikar can be. The Goan Observer has been lucky to survive his vindictive action which has ranged from denial of ads to delay in payments for ads and intimidation of those who have been supporting us to uphold the freedom of the press. The BJP government has to go as now with Modi in Delhi, and with Parrikar remote controlling Goa, the right to dissent is under the threat of extinction. The only choice before us is to bring back the champion of civil liberty, the janata raja back to power.
I personally believe that Goa needs its janata raja – Digambar Kamat – to heal the wounds inflicted by Parrikar and Parsekar.