DAMNED BOTH WAYS?

TIGHT SPOT: Parrikar is caught between following the Supreme Court order and losing out on daaru revenue, which is urgently needed to replenish Goa’s empty coffers, or appeasing the daaru lobby and de-notifying highways, only to be stuck with annual maintenance costs of around `200 crore

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the national and state levels were shocked that the majority Hindu community had comprehensively rejected them in Goa. For a Saturday following the week when I witnessed the anger of people in South Goa over Goa Forward (GF) joining the BJP alliance. For a Saturday following the week when chief minister Manohar Parrikar is allegedly attempting to get Congress MLAs to defect to the BJP as he is not confident of fulfilling the promises he has made to GF. For a Saturday following the week when Goa was under pressure to convert national highways into major district roads to evade the Supreme Court ban on liquor outlets within 500 metres of national highway.

Goan Rejection

AND a few stray thoughts on the shocking surprise for BJP president Amit Shah and prime minister Narendra Modi over the majority community in Goa rejecting the party. As for former Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar, he took it as a major insult that the BJP could win only 13 of 40 seats in the Assembly. But for the Catholics who had been given BJP tickets, the party would have been reduced to a pathetic show of six seats, lower than the nine seats the Congress won in 2012. Parrikar was understandably upset because he had spent an entire month defending Goa instead of India to ensure that the BJP would get a thumping majority as they did in Uttar Pradesh (UP).

The irony was that none of the political pundits or exit polls anticipated that the BJP would do so well in UP and so badly in Goa. Even of the 13 seats that the BJP managed to get, as many as seven were won by minority community Catholic candidates. Neither the BJP, nor the Congress, nor the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) put up a single Muslim candidate though their population is now estimated to be about 14 per cent in Goa as against less than one per cent at the time of Liberation. The lack of a Muslim BJP candidate in Goa is not surprising as the party did not give them representation even in UP which, at 17 per cent, has the largest Muslim population in India. Their population in UP is higher than the entire population of Pakistan. It is obvious that in the light of the appointment of firebrand hardliner Yogi Adityanath as UP chief minister, the BJP has reverted to its agenda of converting a country into a Hindu state.

The fact that Catholics accounted for seven of the 13 seats won by the BJP in Goa created a major embarrassment for the party. The logical corollary was that the leader of the BJP alliance in Goa should be a Catholic but it is unthinkable for the party to appoint anyone other than a Hindu as a chief minister, even if it is Goa where minorities account for 40 per cent of the population. Former deputy chief minister Francis D’Souza had asked to succeed Parrikar as chief minister when the latter moved to Delhi as defence minister but was rejected outright by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is the tail which wags the dog (BJP). This time, it was Calangute MLA Michael Lobo who staked his claim to be the leader.

Parrikar would neither let a minority community MLA become leader of the BJP Legislative party nor was he willing to accept the verdict of Goa. He was so confident that the majority community and even Catholics would vote at least for him that he was shocked by the results. Perhaps he did not understand that Goa wanted him back as a full-time chief minister and was not willing to accept the joker Laxmikant Parsekar who had succeeded him.

Apparently the decision to launch a surgical strike to form a BJP government despite it winning just 13 seats was of party president Amit Shah. He sent transport minister and former party president Nitin Gadkari with or without huge bags of cash to secure the support of at least eight of the 10 elected non-BJP and non-Congress MLAs. Gadkari had no problem with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) as he and its leader Sudin Dhavalikar were old friends, and the latter was willing to switch for the Public Works Department portfolio.

The problem was bitter enemy GF which unexpectedly won three seats. Fortunately for the BJP, the Congress bungled it by insisting that Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) chief Luizinho Faleiro become the chief minister driving Vijai Sardesai into Gadkari’s eager arms. Whether he was paid `1000 crores as alleged by Girish Chodankar is another matter. But I do know that all parties including the Congress which claims to be bankrupt spent huge amounts of money, and all of it was in crisp new `2000 and `500 notes. When the MGP insisted they would extend support only if Parrikar returned as chief minister, Modi agreed readily as he does not like to share power and was running the defence ministry while Parrikar visited Goa every weekend for his xit kodi.

RAGE AGAINST GF

AND a few stray thoughts on the rage I witnessed at a protest rally I addressed, against the GF extending support to the BJP. I could visibly see the anger on faces, particularly of the women in the front row who were mostly senior citizens. If Sardesai had been present, they would have physically attacked him. Among the speakers who expressed their anguish over his betrayal was Dr Francisco Colaço who, soon after the GF-BJP alliance became known, said he would have shot Sardesai if he had a gun and it was not a criminal office.

I was not surprised by the anger of Dr Colaço, Datta Naik, Fomento Green’s Shridhar Kamat and lawyer Cleofat Coutinho. Sardesai had taken them for a ride, requesting respected senior citizens of Margao like them to negotiate on his behalf with Digvijai Singh and Digambar Kamat after the Congress finally agreed to the GF demand that Kamat should be the chief minister. But by then it was too late as Sardesai had already gone to Cidade de Goa and given a conditional letter of support to the BJP. He later even went to Raj Bhavan to prove to the governor that his three MLAs were supporting Parrikar.

In his defence, Sardesai and close associates like Dilip claim they had no choice as the Congress was so divided it could not even agree on a leader. Sardesai and his ‘alter’ boys argue that the BJP has accepted all their demands to promote Goa, Goem and Goenkarponn. Perhaps they see themselves as a Trojan horse, the legendary wooden ‘gift’ horse built by the Greeks to stealthily conceal themselves so they could be wheeled into the curious Trojans’ strong fort, where they could slip out at night and attack the city. Or perhaps Sardesai thinks he is like Shivaji who killed Afzal Khan by stabbing him with the wagh nakh (tiger claws) while embracing him.

And a few stray thoughts on why Parrikar is trying to split the Congress and get their MLAs to defect to the BJP. He knows that his honeymoon with GF will not last because the ideology of Goenkarponn, or communal harmony, is the opposite of the BJP ambition of converting all of India into a Hindu state. He expects that he will not be able to meet GF demands including scrapping the Investment Promotion Board, and cancelling licences to Vani Agro, the beer manufacturer for which the coconut tree was reduced to grass, and his son’s eco-tourism project in Netravali.

He is plotting to get Congress MLA support to make up for the possible withdrawal of GF support. Vishwajit Rane, who was elected on a Congress ticket from Valpoi, has already resigned his seat and was planning to re-contest on a BJP ticket. He controls Sattari and Bicholim and can get at least two more Congress MLAs to resign and get re-elected on BJP tickets.

Parrikar has done this before, during his first tenure as chief minister when he got Babush Monserrate to resign his seat and also persuade Pandurang Madkaikar and Isidore Fernandes to resign their seats as Congress MLAs and re-contest as BJP MLAs. The only problem is that a revolt is brewing within the BJP against Parrikar’s plan to include Rane in his cabinet after he gets re-elected on a BJP ticket.

Urgent Challenges

AND a few stray thoughts on the urgent challenges before the new chief minister. Predecessor Parsekar has left Goa with a debt of more than `15,000 crores.

The treasury is empty and many contractors have abandoned work on roads and bridges because they have not been paid. Even newspapers and magazines have not been fully paid for advertisements. The disbursement under the Laadli Laxmi and the Griha Aadhar schemes has come to a stop. Even old age pensions have been delayed. The government does not have money to pay the premium for the Deen Dayal Swasth Yojana public health insurance scheme which expires on March 31.

Mining has resumed and is being promoted aggressively to earn some income to at least pay salaries and social security benefits. The revenue from mining in the last financial year has been only `50 crore against an average of more than `1,500 crore as royalty and other taxes. Luxury tax revenue on tourism has declined due to a fall in charter tourism. So Parrikar is reluctant to shut casinos which have filled in a gap in revenue caused by the suspension of mining.

The sixth casino in the Mandovi paid `40 crore to the government just to start operations and will no doubt contribute another `200 crore during the financial year. Parrikar claims to be concerned about loss of employment if the casinos are closed, but this is nonsense as more than 80 per cent of employees are from the north east. This is also true of Goa’s spas, both in five-star resorts and independent ones. None of these employees, who pretend to be from Thailand, have any experience of giving massages. The star masseur in a leading five-star hotel is a former barber from Neomis.

The biggest challenge before Parrikar is to increase Goa’s revenue and slash much of the unnecessary expenditure for which he was responsible, like the third Mandovi bridge, the Tiracol river bridge and the disastrous concreting of the Dona Paula bypass road which cost more than `100 crore and took four years. Many buildings constructed by the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation (GSIDC) headed by Sanjit Rodrigues, like the state museum, already have cracks. Sanskriti Bhavan is on the verge of collapse after Geras began using heavy machinery on the neighbouring plot. Perhaps Parrikar should ask Gadkari to send him to good engineers for projects in Goa.

The latter built more than 50 bypasses and completed the Mumbai-Pune expressway ahead of time and within budget. The revenue crunch means Parrikar will have no choice but to find a way out of the Supreme Court order directing the ban on daaru outlets within 500 metres of the national highways.

Desperate for daaru

AND a last stray thoughts on the desperate attempts made by the daaru lobby to save their ventures after the ban on outlets within 500 metres of the highways. It is estimated that as many as 7,000 of the 15,000 daaru outlets in Goa will be affected by the order. It could lead to the closure of at least half of the open air wedding venues on the highway as like Kesarwal Retreat owned by Luizinho Faleiro’s wife because if the order is enforced, their bar licenses will be revoked, and without these, there will be no Catholic or even Hindu weddings because no high society ceremony is complete without serving the best daaru.

The Goa government has an even greater worry. The largest source of revenue besides mining and casinos is the 22 per cent VAT on daaru. The ban will cause the state to lose more than `500 crore in revenue from alcohol tax. As it is, the state revenue from daaru has fallen short by `300 crore due to the two-month code of conduct preceding the elections. The sale of daaru will be further affected with a new code of conduct ahead of panchayat elections in May.

Daaru shop owners have suggested that Parrikar and the state government reclassify all national highways as major district roads. This will put them out of the purview of the Supreme Court order. But if the state does so it will have to bear the expense of maintaining these roads. The cost is around `200 crore a year, usually taken care of by the central government. So Parrikar is damned if he does and double damned if he does not.

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