WINNERS: Gadkari helped Parrikar wrest a win from the Congress by using Dinesh Singh, a wrestler from Uttar Pradesh, to win over Vijai Sardesai
By Rajan Narayan
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when fifty odd onlookers to a suicide rescue attempt fell into the river at Sanvordem. For a Saturday following the week when Nitin Gadkari, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) high command observer of Goa, let the cat out of the bag on how the BJP hijacked the government. For a Saturday following the week when there was an increase in fear that the bhailes will take over the panchayats in the forthcoming elections.
BRIDGE NO MORE
AND a few stray thoughts on the tragedy of the Sanvordem bridge. Though a new bridge has been built over the Zuari at Sanvordem, the old steel bridge which was in very bad shape had not been dismantled. It was not so much a bridge but a walking track along the bridge. A person jumped into the river with the intention of committing suicide. The fire services and police rescue team were trying to rescue the person who had jumped into the river. As is usual in Goa, nobody tried to rescue the person who attempted suicide, but gathered on the old rusty rickety steel bridge to watch the tamasha.
The fire services could not rescue the person who had tried to commit suicide. Instead they had to try to rescue the people who had gathered on the closed bridge to watch the fun. The old bridge which was no longer being used could not take the weight of all those who came to watch the rescue effort. The result was that an estimated 30 to 50 people who had gathered on the bridge fell into the water. Some of them who knew to swim managed to get to the shore. After two days of rescue operations in which the navy and the national disaster relief team joined, it was called off. The excuse offered by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was that since there were no missing person reports of Goans, all the people who had fallen into the river had been rescued. The impression Parrikar gave was that he was not concerned about any migrants who may have sunk.
AFTER the horses had bolted the PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar declared that all bridges which were no longer in use would be barricaded. What should be done is when a new bridge is built the old one should be destroyed. The PWD Minister also declared that all bridges built during the Portuguese era would be examined, giving the impression that the bridge that is collapsed is built by the Portuguese, which was not true, because the bridge that collapsed was built in 1990 by the Goa Government! Unlike in the case of bridges built by the Goa government there is no record of any bridge built by the Portuguese collapsing.
Goa has a notorious record of building bad bridges. Among the first big bridges to be built after liberation was the Mandovi bridge. It lasted for less than 10 years. I recall that some guests of mine had come from Bombay. I had organised a car for them and sent them off to visit Calangute. At 9 am I got a call from them asking me how they could go to the other side. I asked them what the problem was. They told me that Mandovi bridge had collapsed! I did not believe them and immediately rushed to the site where the Mandovi bridge had broken into two parts. Fortunately it was a Sunday morning and there was not much traffic. To ensure that the people of Goa would not be inconvenienced, the government decided not only to repair the old Mandovi bridge but to build a new one. Now 30 years later apparently the government has no confidence in itself and is building a third bridge over the Mandovi as a contingency option in case both the bridges collapse.
ZUARI IN DANGER
THE Zuari bridge is on the verge of collapsing. Every time you cross the Zuari bridge you can hear the death rattle. Both the central PWD and the local PWD It have admitted that the Zuari bridge is in bad shape. There have been proposals to build a new bridge since 2000. Heavy vehicle traffic has been diverted via Ponda to avoid further stress on the bridge. Though Parrikar is very fond of building bridges and announced as many as seven bridges when he came back to power in 2012, the Zuari bridge was not amongst them as it is part of the national highway. Parrikar has good company in Gadkari who also likes to build new bridges and highways. It was Gadkari who built the Bombay–Pune express way. He also built over fifty flyovers when he was the PWD minister. He has started work on the new Zuari bridge. But Gadkari is more concerned about setting records than the safety of those who use the bridges. The consolation is that the bridge will have two towers of 200 metres each with a restaurant and shopping mall. Maybe if the bridge collapses people can take shelter in shopping malls.
There is a story to explain why our ministers are so fond of building bridges. Building bridges like the Mandovi and the Zuari means big money. For instance, the revised cost of the new Mandovi bridges is `500 crore and the cost of the Zuari bridge will be three times the cost of the Mandovi bridge. The story goes that an Indian minister went to the United States. His host took him to his house which was on the bank of a major river in the US. The Indian minister asked his US counterpart how he had managed to earn enough money to built such a palatial home on the banks of the river. The US minister pointed to the bridge and said half the budget for the bridge was diverted to building the palace. When the American minister came to Indian his friend took him to his palace on the Ganges. The palace was three times the size of the American ministers palace. The American asked him where he got the money. The Indian minister pointed to the river. The American pointed out that there was no bridge. The Indian minister laughed and said that the entire budget for the bridge had been used to build the palace! We may laugh at this story but there are many bridges, roads, and even schools in Indian which exists only on paper.
GADKARI THE TORTOISE
AND a few stray thoughts on ongoing fights between the Congress and the BJP on how the Sangh Parivar hijacked the Government of Goa even though they got only 13 seats in the assembly. The normal practise is that the party with the highest number of seats should be invited to form the government. The Congress which to its own surprise won 17 seats and was confident of the support of Goa Forward (GF) and Independent MLA Rohan Khaunte took it for granted that it would form the next government in Goa.
While the Congress rabbit slept, the BJP tortoise Gadkari claims he worked all night to get GF and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to support the BJP attempt to form the government. Gadkari insists that he did not pay `1000 crore to GF MLA Vijai Sardesai for his support. Instead he used a wrestler from Uttar Pradesh called Dinesh Singh who was a good friend of Vijai to convince him to support the BJP at 3 am in the morning. We do not know whether the wrestler challenged Vijai to a kusti contest or beat him up. The only condition that Vijay insisted on was that Parrikar should be the chief minister. The MGP had already extended it support in return for the BJP performer.
Gadkari claims that he called up Amit Shah, the BJP president, and told him about Vijai’s condition that Parrikar be chief minister. Both Gadkari and Shah knew that Parrikar was dying to come back to Goa. So early in the morning, after consulting Narendra Modi, they agreed that Parrikar would return to Goa as chief minister giving up the position of defence minister. With all the rats deserting the Congress ship, and with a BJP overnor in the Raj Bhavan, Parrikar had no problem capturing the kodel even though his party had won only 13 seats.
Of course the Congress was also to blame. Luizinho Faleiro, the GPCC president, double crossed Vijai who had been promised the four seats of Fatorda, Saligao, Siolim and Velim. At the last moment Luizinho who wanted to become chief minister himself fielded Congress candidates even against Vijai. Vijai’s condition for extending support to the Congress was that Digambar Kamat should be made the chief minister. Everyone is blaming Digvijay Singh for not agreeing to Vijai’s demand. But the problem was not with Digvijay, but with Rahul Gandhi, who was holding the fort as Sonia was away in the US for a medical check-up. Rahul pointed out that with Digambar accused in the mining scam and the Luis Berger case, the BJP might embarrass Digambar by arresting him if he was made the chief minister. This was the reason why Digambar was not made the chief minister.
IN FOR A SURPRISE
THE saddest part was that Vijai had deputed some senior citizens of South Goa like Dr Francisco Colaco, Datta Naik, Cleofat Coutinho the advocate, and Formento Green CEO, Shridhar Kamat, to negotiate the terms with Digvijay for GF to join the Congress. Even while the discussion was going on, Vijai had secretly struck a deal with Parrikar. The honourable team of senior citizens came to know only when somebody from the Raj Bhavan told them that Vijai was with Parrikar extending support to the BJP government. The result would have different if the Congress sacked Luizinho Faleiro.
The Congress still has a chance of bringing down the BJP government of Parrikar. If Parrikar is defeated in the bye-election he will have to quit. Similarly, if Vishwajit Rane is disqualified or loses the bye-election in Valpoi, the BJP will lose its majority. But the problem is that Luizinho is still not willing to resign. And as long as Luizinho is the president, GF will not extend support to the Congress. A great deal will depend on whether Babush Monserrate agrees to contest against Parrikar in bye-election to Panjim. It is not a coincidence that Parrikar had a long talk with the Panjim mayor Surendra Furtado on Tuesday to get back the Catholics support which was the main reason why he won five times from Panjim.
THE BIG VILLAGE
AND a few stray thoughts on the elections to the panchayats which are expected to be held on June 12. Among the victims of the Code of Conduct which has already come into place was the first ever horticultural show organised in South Goa by Nevil Alphonso, Deputy Director of Agriculture in charge of South Goa. His mistake was the choice of venue. Ravindra Bhavan, where the show was to take place, is not part of Margao but part of Fatorda village. It may come as a surprise that an area which has the biggest stadium in the state and has Ravindra Bhavan should be a village.
But the same is true of Taleigao also, which has the community centre and some of the biggest gated colonies. At least in the case of Taleigao it was part of Panjim once upon a time. It is only when Babush Monserrate got elected to the assembly and was made TCP Minister that Taleigao was separated by the CCP and converted into a panchayat again on the demand of Babush. Indeed Taleigao is the only village in Goa which has its own planning and development authority.
There are fears that the migrants might win a large number of seats in the panchayat election. The fear is greatest in the south where a large number of migrants have settled in villages like Raia, Curtorim, Nuvem and even Navelim. In fact the charges that Luizinho Faleiro is trying to get the bhailes elected as the locals don’t trust him any longer. Already there are panchayats in Mormugoa taluka which are dominated by migrants. For instance the majority of the panchas in Sancoale are migrants.
GOAN villages are very small compared to villages in neighbouring states. The population of Goan villages is much less than that of Goan towns. Even the CCP has a population of only 20,000 which means that the number of voters in each ward is less than 1,000. In the case of panchayats the number of voters in each ward could be less than 200. If a large number migrant are settled in a ward it is easy for them to win the panchayat election. Not just the panchayat election but in coming months and years migrants may win even state elections.
The ratio of migrants to locals in the 2017 election was 60 to 40 in favour of locals. It is expected that by 2025 the ratio will reverse and the migrants will be in majority. This is because the birth rate or the reproduction rate among ethnic Goans is only 1.2 per cent as against the minimum needed of 2 per cent for replacement of the existing population. In contrast the reproduction rates of migrants is four and above. So there is no reason why the majority of the MLAs in the 2022 elections may not be migrants. Even the chief minister could be a migrant.
There is a precedent for this in Tamil Nadu where people are more fiercely attached to Tamil then Goans are attached to Konkani. Unlike in Goa all the people of Tamil Nadu swear by Tamil and do not have to share the state with any other language like Goa has to share Konkani with Marathi. There is no Marathi mausi in Tamil Nadu unlike in Goa. The Tamils are so obsessed with their language that even though they may know very good English they will speak to you only in Tamil. Even their dress code of wearing lungis at half mast is typical of Tamils. Even the former Home Minister PC Chidambaram, and Information Minister Venkaiah Naidu wear dhotis to assert their southern identity. In the 60s when the Centre tried to make Hindi compulsory there was a huge agitation in the whole of the south which forced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to change her mind.
Despite Tamils being so dedicated to their language, at least three of their most popular chief ministers have been from outside. The most popular one, MGR was originally from Kerala. His girlfriend Jayalalithaa who succeeded him, was a Mysore Brahmin. Now it looks as though Shivaji Rao Gaikwad, a Maharashtrian settle in Karnataka, who considered Kannada his mother tongue, may become the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu.