THREAT: The mining dependants who met at the Azad Maidan have decided to protest before parliament in Delhi in the winter session. Senior BJP leaders like Nilesh Cabral and even Speaker Pramod Sawant have offered to support them. (In pic – February 2018 mining protest)
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
The Parrikar-led BJP government is caught between the protest by Ghate asking Parrikar to step down and the threat of the mining lobby to disrupt the peak of the tourism season
The countdown has started. Sooner rather than later, and certainly by December 15, if not earlier, Parrikar will be replaced. Alternatively, the Goa Legislative Assembly will be dissolved. It could have happened much earlier but the BJP high command, including Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, are too busy with ongoing elections in the five states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. The polling process will be completed and the results are expected to be announced on December 11. The BJP high command does not want any mishap in Goa which might reflect on the polling in the states of MP, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram where the process began in November. Particularly since surveys have shown an anti-Modi wave and the Congress may win both. This will be a major setback to the BJP as it held MP and Chhattisgarh for the last three terms. The BJP is also not very confident about its prospects in Telangana and Rajasthan.
The susegad Goan has been provoked beyond his level of tolerance. This was clear at the meeting of activists held at the Azad Maidan where Ghate was fasting. An ultimatum has been delivered and mass agitations are planned across Goa. At the meeting, presided over by Dr Francisco Colaço, he made the declaration that Manohar Parrikar is in a comatose state. Which means that he cannot speak or talk or write and perhaps is not even conscious. Though Dr Colaço, who is a veteran cardiologist, made the statement on Saturday, there was no rebuttal either on Sunday or Monday, either from the doctors, the government, the party or the family.
A curious aspect of Parrikar’s prolonged illness is that no medical bulletins have been issued by any of the hospitals in which he has undergone treatment. This includes that the Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai, Sloan Kettering in New York, All India Institute of Medical Science, Delhi and the Goa Medical College. Parrikar also spent a day in the nursing home in Candolim owned by a member of his extended family.
A petition has been filed before the Goa High Court demanding that he should examines by an independent panel of doctors and the public should be informed of his status. Though the party keeps insisting that he is fine, that he is been clearing files and that he will even be attending the winter session of the Assembly nobody believes them. This is because even ministers have admitted that they have not seen Parrikar after he was discharged from the Dukle Hospital in Candolim and moved to new premises in Taleigao (near Models’ Status colony) which have been converted into an intensive care unit albeit without facilities for periodical CT scans and MRIs.
There is pressure on Parrikar and the BJP from two sides. On the one hand there is the people’s movement which was kicked off by Ghate’s 11-day fast. The anger is likely to intensify after the attempt to assault him late Sunday night. According to reports attributed to Ghate he was first offered `5 crore to withdraw the fast and then subsequently assaulted when he refused. His friends who were with him called police who arrested the assailant and claimed he was mentally unbalanced. Since it happened late at night there was nothing on media on Monday, but it went viral on social networks.
The government’s clumsy attempt to break his fast by trying to shift him to GMC also was a failure. The head of the medicine department Dr Edwin Gomes of the GMC personally visited Ghate at Azad Maidan and advised that he would be shifted to GMC for forced infusion of nutrition. In other words forced feeding. If this had happened it would have been a piquant situation with both Ghate and Parrikar (reportedly) fed through tubes. Except in the case of Ghate it would have been against his will.
Ghate’s minimum demand was that the chief minister should hand over his portfolios to other ministers so that governance is restored. Alternatively the chief minister should quit and the BJP high command should find an alternative.
This almost happened with Nitin Gadkari supporting his brother-in-law, Sudin Dhavalikar, to be if not a successor at least an interim chief minister. This was not acceptable not only to the Goa Forward but even to Parrikar who has been in favour of installing Promod Sawant as the chief minister or acting chief minister. Which in turn is not acceptable to the other leaders of the BJP like Parsekar and Arlekar. In fact, when a meeting were called of the core committee, the three senior-most leaders — Parsekar Arlekar and Francis D souza — did not even attend the meeting.
Parsekar has demanded the resignation of BJP state president Tendulkar who is being blamed for inducting Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte into the BJP. It has been pointed out that Subhash Shirodkar cannot even run the education institutions that he has set up. The staff of the Engineering, Ayurveda and Homeopathy colleges have not been paid salaries for the last month. Nobody wants a seat in Shirodkar’s Engineering college which has more than 80 seats vacant.
The problems of the BJP are compounded by Subhash Velingkar starting his own political party and threatening to contest from Mandrem, the constituency in which Sopte defeated Parsekar. The storm started by Ghate is going to turn into cyclone if Opposition politicians like Reginald Lourenço, Churchill Alemao and Ravi Naik join the movement and mobilize the masses.
There is an even greater threat to the BJP government which comes from mine owners and those dependent on mine owners. Mining dependants, which include truck owners, barge owners, and mining equipment hirers, are demanding immediate resumption of mining. They are even threatening to go to Delhi to protest outside the Jantar Mantar during the winter session of Parliament.
Not surprisingly all the MLAs who boycotted the meeting of activists concerned about Ghate on Saturday are not only willing, but anxious to join the protest in Delhi. This is particularly true of MLAs representing mining constituencies. Most senior BJP politicians in the government are from mining areas. This includes Speaker Pramod Sawant, Curchorem MLA Nilesh Cabral, Bicholim MLA Pravin Zantye and even Health Minister Vishwajit Rane.
You may ask where the mining dependants will get money to fund their protest before Parliament. Money is no issue as the mine owners are using those dependent on mining to serve their own purposes. The mine owners’ primary interest is that they should retain the mines which were given to them as concessions by the Portuguese.
State leaders, both Congress and BJP, not to mention alliance partners like the MGP, tried to persuade the Centre to issue an ordinance as they did in the case of triple talaq. This was rejected by the Centre. Subsequently the state BJP tried to persuade the Mines Ministry to amend the Act which converted concessions into leases. Unfortunately for mine owners, the Union Law Ministry advised against any amendment to the Act. They believe that it will not survive any challenge in court.
Mining can be revived in Goa quite soon if the amdars of Goa accept the Supreme Court order that all natural resources, including mines, should be auctioned. Mine owners are not in favour because they may not be able to match big industrialists like the Jindals and the Adanis in case of auction.
Of the two threats to the survival of the government the mining interests are the bigger threat. They have already threatened violence and have large enough political support to paralyse Goa during the peak of the tourism season. So instead of jingle bells this Christmas or a happy new year, it is going to be Goa which is drowned in violence because of the demand to replace the comatose Parrikar or the protest by the mining lobby to revive mining immediately.
If the protests happen on the scale threatened, the tourism industry will be killed. Over 70% of activity in the tourism industry is in the month of December. It is time to say Goa going gone.