SUPPLICATION: Parrikar pandered to different vote banks by seeking blessings from the Goddesh Mahalaxmi and the Church. On the other hand, Girish Chodankar along with other Congress leaders held a pooja on Miramar beach, at the site of the grounded ‘Lucky Seven’, praying that the beach will not be destroyed
By Rajan Narayan
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Congress candidate, Girish Chodankar, chose to offer prayers to the Mandovi river to start his campaign. For a Saturday following the week when there was a controversy in social media on whether the Panjim parish priest had the authority to give his blessings to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Manohar Parrikar. For a Saturday following the week when the focus seems to be entirely on the Panjim bye-election with little or no media coverage of the bye-election in Valpoi. For a Saturday following the week when the senior leaders of the Congress were still divided and did not take part in the election campaign of even the General Secretary Girish Chodankar. For a Saturday following the week when the Congress top political strategist Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, won the battle for his Rajya Sabha seat.
AND a few stray thoughts on Girish very appropriately seeking the blessing of the River Mandovi, and not the Hindu or Catholic Gods, unlike Parrikar. It may be recalled that Parrikar visited both the Mahalaxmi Temple and the Mary Immaculate Church in Panjim, before filing his nomination. Significantly Parrikar did not visit a mosque to seek the blessing of the maulana. Girish chose to seek the blessing of the Mandovi river because, unlike the BJP, he does not believe in mixing religion with politics. In any case, not being a Brahmin he would not have been allowed into the sanctum of the Mahalaxmi Temple. Girish did not even attempt to seek the blessing of the Brahmanand swami of Kundaim who is the head of the Bhandari Samaj.
By seeking the blessing of the Mandovi river, Girish stressed how important the Mandovi is to life in Goa. It is the Mandovi which has been the backbone of the mining economy of Goa. If Goan mine owners have been able to survive and flourish it is because they could transfer ore in barges through the Mandovi and the Zuari rivers. Without the Mandovi river, Goa would not have drinking water, its agriculture, and orchards of mangoes, bananas, betel nuts and cashew nuts. Which is why Goa has been so strongly protesting against the diversion of the Mhadei, which is the mother of the Mandovi, by Karnataka. The neighbouring state has already admitted that it has built a dam near Ramnagar, close to Belgaum, to divert the water of the Mandovi. This would starve the people of Goa who are totally dependent on the Mandovi.
By invoking the blessing of the Mandovi river Girish also drew attention to the fact that the BJP had sold the Mandovi river to the casino lobby. The act of praying to the Mandovi at Miramar beach near the beached ‘Lucky Seven’ also drew attention to the criminally irresponsible behaviour of Parrikar. It was Parrikar who, ignoring the advice of the Captain of Ports, permitted the owner of the ‘Lucky Seven’, Gopal Kanda, to move the ship from the MPT to the Mandovi river. Parrikar did this knowing that all movement of ships has come to a halt during the monsoon for hundreds of years because of the sand bar near Aguada. Even during the Portugal colonial regime of 450 years, the ban on crossing of the sandbar was strictly enforced. Though the Parrikar government keeps claiming that the ‘Unlucky Seven’ will be shifted back to the MPT, every passing day points to the ‘Lucky Seven’ being a greater disaster than ‘River Princess’. Though all the equipment has been brought by Arihant, the company employed by the owners of the ‘Lucky Seven’, they have now discovered the hull of the ship is damaged due to the heavy waves and the ship would sink if any attempts were made to tow it away. Incredibly, even after the disaster of the ship losing its anchor and sinking into the sand at Miramar beach, the owners are requesting that it should be permitted to berth in the Mandovi river.
ANOTHER unique aspect of the campaign of Girish is that, unlike Parrikar, he does not claim any major achievements. Girish, unlike Parrikar who has promised to solve Panjim’s problems within 365 days, does not believe in making promises.
Girish does not even see himself as a very big political leader or a great challenger to Manohar Parrikar. He does not expect to win the battle on the basis of his being the candidate. He expects the people of Panjim to elect him because of their anger at Parrikar for not doing anything for the capital city in the last 23 years.
Girish is banking on the power of the people of Panjim to defeat Parrikar, which is the democratic way, because it is the people who matter in a democracy and not the candidates.
AND a few stray thoughts on the controversy in social media over the Panjim parish priest extending his blessings to Parrikar. The first question is whether the Panjim parish priest has the right to give Parrikar his blessings to be successful in the bye-elections to the Panjim Assembly Seat. Let us not make any mistakes about it. Parrikar did not go to the Panjim parish priest seeking his personal blessing for his private welfare. He went there as the BJP candidate.
Many good Christians have argued on Facebook that the parish priest did nothing wrong and can bless anyone who seeks his blessings. They insist this blessing done not mean the Church supports Parrikar. But this blessing was not an ordinary blessing. Parrikar sought the parish priest’s blessing as the candidate for the Panjim seat in the bye-election. A blessing in this context would give the impression that the Panjim parish priest, if not the Church itself, is supporting the BJP and its candidate in the bye-election.
It is not know whether the Panjim parish priest had the permission of Archbishop Filipe Neri to give the blessings of the Church to the BJP candidate Manohar Parrikar. In the recent past, the Bishop, who represents the Church, has been very critical of the BJP and Parrikar. During his address during the Christmas week celebration in December, Neri had warned against divisive forces which were creating an atmosphere of intolerance. More recently, the Bishop has made very critical statements on the harassment of beef eaters in the country. In the context of the mass desecration of graves and crosses, the fact-finding team of the Church has been insisting that Francis Pereira is a scapegoat, and that the real culprits have not been caught. Even after the arrest of Francis Pereira there have been cases of desecrations.
What is curious is that the Bishop has remained silent on the act of the parish priest giving his blessings to Parrikar. He has remained silent even though the BJP and Parrikar got the photograph of the blessing published prominently in at least two major papers — the Times of India and the Navhind Times — which are known to support the BJP. Maybe the Election Commission should check whether the photograph of the parish priest blessing Parrikar, published in Times of India, was paid news, since the Code of Conduct has already come into place. Is the Bishop silent because he is afraid that Parrikar will withdraw grants to English-medium primary schools run by the Church?
WHAT is more likely is that the Bishop has no control over his flock. He remained silent when the parish priest of Taleigao, Fr Conceição, openly canvassed for Babush and Jennifer during mass at the Taleigao Church. I recall a time when Fr Avinash, who was the parish priest of the Santa Cruz Church, canvassed for Rudolf Fernandes and Mummy dearest. When I asked him why he was supporting goons, he said they were very generous to the Church! Parish priests have the power to make or break the candidate. This is because the ordinary poor Catholic has full faith in the parish priest even if he a rogue. I recall that Luizinho Faleiro lost his Navelim seat more than a decade ago to Churchill Alemao because he had fought with the local parish priest. The Bishop has a duty to clarify whether the Panjim parish priest had taken his permission to bless Parrikar, the candidate, and why he remained silent on whether the Church is supporting Parrikar in the bye-elections.
AND a few stray thoughts on the focus being completely on the bye-elections in Panjim. Even in the media there are few, if any, reports on the simultaneous bye-election in Valpoi. It may be recalled that the Valpoi Assembly Seat became vacant when Vishwajit Rane resigned the seat he had won on the Congress ticket. After the election when the BJP formed the government, even though they had won only 13 seats compared to the 17 to the Congress, Vishwajit resigned and joined the BJP. He was promptly appointed the Minister for Health by Parrikar. Like Parrikar he is a minister in the cabinet although he is not an MLA. The rule is that anyone can become a minister or even chief minister, provided he gets himself elected to the Legislative Assembly within a period of six months. Which means that if Parrikar and Vishwajit do not get elected to the Assembly by October they will have to quit.
From the media coverage it would appear that there is a bye-election only in Panjim and not in Valpoi. There are no reports or photographs of the election campaign of Vishwajit Rane and his main challenger, Roy Naik of the Congress. We expected the media, particularly the electronic media, to give the Valpoi fight heavy coverage, as it is a battle between the sons of two former chief ministers. Vishwajit is the son of veteran Congress leader Pratap Singh Rane. And Roy Naik is the son of Ravi Naik, who was the chief minister in the 90s. Ravi Naik is remembered as the Home Minister who arrested all the goons in Goa including Churchill Alemao and Rudolf Fernandes.
The fight in Valpoi could be as tough or even tougher than in Panjim. This is not because both Vishwajit and Roy are great candidates. Vishwajit is considered very corrupt and destroyed the Goa Medical College (GMC). Goan Observer also published reports of his land deals in Canacona when he was in power. Even when his father was chief minister he was an extra-constitutional authority. Contractors and others who went to senior Rane, the chief minister, for work, had to visit junior Rane to ensure that their work got done. Vishwajit specialises in outsourcing. During his last tenure he outsourced the pathology department and the cleaning and security of the GMC. He also hired hundreds of young men and women from Sattari as attendants, none of whom do any work, insisting on special treatment as baba’s men.
ROY Naik, former chief minister Ravi Naik’s son, is an equally controversial candidate. Roy Naik was exposed as an associate of the Israeli mafia don Atala in 2012. In a video, shot by Atala’s girlfriend, Roy is seen visiting Atala and being on very friendly terms with him. The video also showed policemen and officers re-selling drugs that they had seized from drug peddlers to Atala. Normally any drugs seized are supposed to be burnt in public, in the presence of witnesses, so that they don’t go back into the market. When an investigation was done it was found that several hundred tonnes of drugs confiscated by the police were missing from the store room.
Hence the fight in Valpoi is between two sons of chief ministers’ who are considered black sheep. Both have enough money and muscle power to make it an interesting fight. It will be a great shock to the BJP and to the Rane parivar if Vishwajit loses the bye-election to the Valpoi Assembly Seat.
And a few stray thoughts on senior Congress leaders sulking and not taking part in the campaign for the bye-elections. The senior Rane has made it clear that although he still considers himself a loyal Congress leader, he will not campaign against his son. Obviously blood is thicker than political ties. (Roy Naik’s father Ravi Naik is actively campaigning for his son but there is no conflict as both belong to the Congress.) Surprisingly there is no sign of other Congress veterans taking any interest in the election. Luizinho Faleiro, the former GPCC Chief, has not been seen campaigning for either Girish Chodankar or Roy Naik. Even more shockingly, even Digambar Kamat, who is very close to Girish Chodankar, has not been seen campaigning for his badminton partner and former election agent. Girish has to depend on Ulhas Buyao, the singer, to be his campaign manager. This may be an excellent idea as it was Ulhas’ father who was the bard of the Opinion Poll.
AND a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. The veteran Congress strategist, Ahmed Patel, who is the main political adviser of Sonia Gandhi, managed to outwit the president of the BJP, Amit Shah. The battle ground was naturally Shah’s home state, Gujarat. The election was to the Rajya Sabha, which normally is not controversial. There are three seats in the Rajya Sabha for the state of Gujarat. Candidates have to get a minimum of 45 first preference votes of the MLAs to get elected. The BJP has a majority in Gujarat, but the Congress had more than 50 seats, which would have ensured the re-election of Patel to the Rajya Sabha.
Shah wanted to finish the Congress and particularly his most bitter rival, Patel, who is also from Gujarat. Shah was aware that it would be a personal setback to Sonia Gandhi if her personal advisor was defeated in the Rajya Sabha election. So, typically for Shah, he tried to bribe the Congress MLAs to shift sides and managed to get five of them to resign. A nervous Congress moved the remaining 45 MLAs all the way to Karnataka to keep them safe from poaching by Shah and company. It worked, but eventually the Congress MLAs had to return to Gujarat on voting day.
There was high suspense on Tuesday when the election for the three Rajya Sabha seats took place. Shah and Smiti Irani won their seats getting the minimum required — 45 votes. When it came to Patel there was high drama. At one stage it looked as though Shah had succeeded and Sonia Gandhi’s advisor had lost. Apparently two Congress MLAs broke the rules and showed their vote to Shah, the BJP president. Perhaps the deal was that if they proved that they had voted for the BJP candidate they would be rewarded. However, if that was the case, it back-fired, and the Congress succeeded in getting the Election Commission to disqualify the two Congress MLAs who had cheated allowing Patel the veteran, to finally get the better of the self-styled master-manipulator Amit Shah.