IN BETTER TIMES: The Bishop and Parrikar had a warm relationship in the past, however, Parrikar’s association with the Sangh Parivar is straining the relationship and the minorities are finally waking up to the fact that forget looking after the minorities… Parrikar is struggling to manage his basic duty of looking after the city of Panjim
The BJP romance with the Church began with Manohar Parrikar consenting to continue to extend grants to primary schools run by the Church which had switched to the English medium. The relationship soured over the policies followed by the Narendra Modi government in Delhi and the U turn of Manohar Parrikar on the Regional Plan and other issues. The last straw was the opposition of the Church to Manohar Parrikar in the bye-elections held on August 23, 2017
By Rajan Narayan
Until the 2012 election there was little love lost between the Church and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the Congress Government of Digambar Kamat was steeped in corruption. Several issues came up in which the Church took the side of the agitating citizens of Goa. The most prominent of this was the demand for the scraping of the Regional Plan (RP) 2011. Ironically it was not the Congress government but the BJP government, during the tenure of the then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, that was responsible for the diabolical RP 2011. Parrikar had rewarded Babush Monserrate for his support to the BJP with the Town and Country planning portfolio and Babush in turn had invited the builders to turn Goa black or grey.
THE Church extended its support to the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) led by Dr Oscar Rebello to have the RP 2011 scrapped. Digambar Kamat not only bowed to public pressure, but set up a panel under the late Charles Correa and Edgar Ribeiro to formulate the new RP 2021. Regrettably at the last moment when the plan was notified just before the 2012 elections, many objectionable features like exceptions for eco-tourism projects were made. The village groups which were led by largely Catholics and had the support of the Church, insisted on the scrapping of the Regional Plan as it was notified. Parrikar played to the gallery and the Church by promising to review RP 2021 if the party came to power. Never mind that he did nothing and the new RP 2021 has still not seen the light of the day.
There were other issues which the people of Goa was upset about. This included the allotment of large amounts of land to land sharks under the pretence of setting up special economic zones which will provide jobs. In the light of the agitation against SEZ which was supported by the Church, Digambar not only scraped the allotment of land but the SEZ policy also. Parrikar however is still talking about reaching a settlement with those who had been allotted land. The issue has been pending in court as the decision to scrape the SEZ was challenged by those who were given plots. The Church also lent active support to the agitation against the Mopa Airport which would have affected the Catholics most. This is because Mopa would have led to the closure of Dabolim Airport which was the spine of the tourism industry in Catholic dominated South Goa.
But it was not the RP 2011 or the SEZ controversy or even the future of Dabolim which brought the Church and the BJP together. Towards the end of the tenure of the Digambar Kamat chief ministership in 2016, the Bishop approached the government for permission to switch from the Devanagari medium to English in primary schools run by the Church. The ground reality was that parents were not interested in putting their children in either Konkani or Marathi medium schools. This led to a sharp drop in enrolment in schools run by the Church particularly in the villages. The Catholic parents could not afford to put their children in English medium schools which were forced to charge high fees because they did not get any grants from the government.
MOI ISSUE IS BORN
UNTIL 1993 all schools irrespective of the MOI received grants from the Education Department right from the class I. Shashikala Kakodkar who was the Education Minister in the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) Government amended the rules limiting grants only to vernacular schools. She did this because she was worried about the sharp decline in enrolment in Marathi medium schools. The Marathi medium schools were started by her father and the teachers were her supporters. At that time the Church took the decision to switch the MOI to Konkani to continue to avail of grants. The problem was not the switch to Konkani as the MOI but the condition that only schools teaching in the Devanagari Script of Konkani will get grants. None of the teachers in the Catholic schools knew any Devanagari as they were only familiar with the Romi script.
When the Church demanded grants for all including English medium primary schools, ironically Parrikar opposed it. There are photos of Parrikar wearing the t-shirt of the Goa Suraksha Manch which had opposed any change in the MOI policy and had opposed restoring grants to English medium primary schools run by the Church. Without waiting for official permission the Church switched the MOI to English. Though there was no formal change in the policy, Digambar instructed the Education Department to continue to extend grants to English medium primary schools run by the Church.
In a case of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare even while opposing change in MOI, Parrikar had a private meeting with the bishop. He promised the bishop that if the BJP came to power the MOI would be modified to permit grants to primary English medium schools run by the Church. When the BJP came to power in the 2017 election with a clear majority, Parrikar stuck to his promise. He modified the rules to legalise grants to English medium primary schools run by Church organisation. However grants were extended only to the 140 odd schools run by the Church directly and other Christian orders like Pilar and Don Bosco. No other private schools including those run by Hindu management like the People’s High School or Mushtifund were given grants for their English medium primary section.
The romance between the Church and the BJP became stronger when Parrikar decided to grant BJP tickets for the first
time to members of the Catholic community. Until 2012 the only Catholic MLAs of the BJP were Francis D’Souza who called himself a Catholic Hindu and Dr Wilfred Mesquita. In the 2017 elections the BJP under the direction of Parrikar offered seats to six minority community candidates while supporting four more. For the first time the BJP gave tickets and supported minority community candidates even in the Catholic strong hold of Salcete. The most interesting part was all the Catholic candidates supported by the BJP and put up by the BJP won in the elections. The composition of the BJP is changed with the Catholics accounting for 10 of the 24 MLAs supporting the Parrikar government.
BEGINNING OF THE END
MOG turned into hate primarily because of all the U turns taken by the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Though Parrikar did not go back on the promise of continuing grants to Catholics schools which had switched to the English medium, he did not fulfil his promises on the RP 2021. The Church was also unhappy over the Mopa airport which was speeded up by Parrikar amidst concerns over Dabolim closing down. But the tipping point really came when the BJP won the elections at the national levels with a huge majority. The Church fell out of love with the BJP not because of any serious differences with Parrikar but growing unease over the policies of the Modi government.
The first shock to the minority Catholic community was the decision by the Human Resources Development Minister making the singing of saraswati vandana compulsory in all schools. Subsequently there was also a demand that all schools should sing the Vande Mataram. There was increasing interference in the field of education by the Modi government. There were fears that the Modi government would undermine the autonomy of schools and colleges run by the minority community. A major bone of contention at least at the national level was the feeling that the special status enjoyed by minority institutions would be withdrawn. Under the existing laws educational institutions owned and run by minorities including religious and linguistic minorities could give preference to members of their own community even ignoring merit. The fear is that the government will start interfering in admissions to professional colleges run by Don Bosco and the Pillar order.
THE greatest shock perhaps was the decision by several state governments ban the slaughter of the holy cows. The ban extended to the transport storage and consumption of any kind of beef. Although on paper the slaughter of bulls and buffaloes was permitted, gau rakshaks went on the rampage all over the country attacking members of the minority community. All the BJP states with the exception of Goa have a law against the slaughter of cows. There are some states where even a life sentence can be imposed for slaughter or even consumption of beef. In the state of Maharashtra until the High Court intervened, even storage of beef belonging to buffaloes and serving it in hotels and restaurants was banned. To be fair to Manohar Parrikar he has resisted the pressure to impose any kind of ban on beef in Goa.
It is since Modi came to power and with the atmosphere of intolerance setting in that the Church decided to begin the process of divorce from the Church. Perhaps the boiling point was reached when there was a meeting of Hindutva fanatics in Goa in June this year. At this meeting the so called ‘sadhvi’ Saraswati asked for the arrest of all the Catholics MLAs who ate beef. She went to the extent of demanding that Catholics who ate beef should be hung to death. Significantly despite demands from opposition parties and even Church leaders, Manohar Parrikar did not take any action against the ‘sadhvi’.
The latest provocation for the talaq between the Church and the BJP is the mass desecration of graves and crosses
particularly in South Goa. The police claimed to have arrested Francis Pereira, a taxi driver from the Curchorem Constituency that is represented by Nilesh Cabral, a BJP MLA. The Church had appointed a committee to investigate the attacks on Church property independently. Even in its interim report the panel had expressed doubts over the so called confession of Francis Pereira in which he claimed to have single handily carried out over 200 attacks.
The relation between the BJP or more specifically between the bishop Felipe Neri and Manohar Parrikar reached breaking point during the recent bye-elections to the Panjim assembly seats. Parrikar managed to get the Panjim parish priest to give him his blessing and had the photograph flashed in all the dailies. The photograph gave the impression that Parrikar had the support of the Church including the Bishop. It became obvious that the parish priest of Panjim had blessed Parrikar before he went to file his nomination without consulting the Bishop or expecting that BJP would misuse it. This blatant attempt to sway Catholic voters clearly angered the Bishop.
On the eve of polling day the Church uttered the word talaq for the first time. An editorial appeared in the Church magazine Renovação (Renewal). The article attacked Manohar Parrikar for all his U turns and the failure to carry out promises. The article drew attention to the Casino ship stranded on the Miramar beach. What make the BJP very angry was the comparison that the author Dr F E Noronha made between Nazi Germany and the present BJP government at the Centre. Though no names were mentioned it was clear that the author was comparing Modi with Hitler. The second talaq took the form of the final report of the Church panel which was appointed to probe the attacks on Church property. The panel which submitted its report two days before the day of polling made fun of the arrest of Francis Pereira and insisted that the BJP was shielding a larger conspiracy. Their implied charge was that the Sangh Parivar was responsible for the mass desecration of graveyards and crosses. The last and final talaq was the perception of the BJP that the Catholics or a large section of it did not vote for Parrikar which led to a sharp fall in the margin of its victory.
It is clear that now Parrikar and the Church have completed the process of triple talaq. The divorce is now final even though the Supreme Court may have declared triple talaq illegal. Parrikar of course is too smart to directly attack the Church himself. He is firing all his gun across the guns of his faithful Catholic MLA Nilesh Cabral who went to the extent of claiming that Nazis were Catholics in Hitler’s Germany. Which seemed like a defence of the intolerant behaviour and policies of the Modi government. Not content with shooting at the Bishop across Nilesh Cabral, Parrikar has also manipulated the Goa Forward (GF) to attack the Church. The GF in turn has chosen Trajano D’Mello, who recently joined the party, to attack the Church and accuse it of interfering in political affairs.
When the Digambar Kamat Congress government reached and crossed the limits of corruption, the Church attacked it. If the
BJP won the 2012 elections it was at least partly because it had the support of the Church. I recall that even Dr Oscar Rebello insisted that a BJP under Parrikar was preferable to a corrupt Congress. At that time nobody questioned the right of the Church to advise the voters or actively take up social causes. What is applicable to the goose is equally true of the gander. The Church has an equal right to take-on the communal BJP, as it did when it attacked the corrupt Congress. As Dr Noronha pointed out — we can survive corruption, but communalism is, and has always been, fatal.
Many people have been killed in the name of protecting the holy cow. If only their killers would prioritise farmers who commit suicide because they are not able to pay back their loans, youth who are discriminated against because of their caste, or in fact any oppressed human over the holy cow!
The priorities of the BJP are dramatised by the fact that although over 60 children died in Gorakhpur, and reports have come to light of almost 50 dying in Farrukhabad (both in Uttar Pradesh) the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditiyanath remains more concern with the lives of cows than that of children..