FAREWELL: The son and daughter of the late Dr Wilfred Mesquita who was aligned with the MGP and subsequently the BJP lighting the funeral pyre at the Vasco Hindu crematorium
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the most popular politician in Goa, Dr Wilfred Mesquita, died after a brief illness in Mumbai. For a Saturday following the week when gang wars like in the early ‘90s broke out again in Goa. For a Saturday following the week when Chief Minister Sawant went back on his promise of inducting Michael Lobo into the Cabinet until political developments seem to have forced his hand. For a Saturday following a week when resentment against migrants seems to be increasing.
And a few stray thoughts on the sad demise of Dr Wilfred Mesquita who was the most friendly politician in the state.
Dr Mesquita was a man of principle and has never been accused of arrogance, let alone corruption. For Dr Mesquita politics was more of a hobby. He never chased offices of profit and was devoted to Manohar Parrikar. Mr Mesquita was the first Catholic to join the MGP as far back as 1974, which was after the Opinion Poll when MGP accepted the distinct identity of Goa and the Opinion Poll verdict.
With the demise of the MGP, with all its leaders including the daughter of the late Dayanand Bandodkar deserting the party, Mesquita joined the Congress for a brief period and was minister for Revenue. He subsequently quit the Congress and joined the BJP on the request of Manohar Parrikar. Though he lost the Assembly election that he fought on the BJP ticket, Parrikar appointed him Commissioner of NRI affairs. He did a great job as NRI Commissioner, helping non-residents stranded in the Gulf because their employers would not give them back their passports.
Dr Mesquita realized that the labour was not to blame but the agents who took huge amounts of money from them with the promise of getting them jobs with big salaries in the Gulf. Dr Mesquita cracked down on the agents and the NRI Affairs Department maintained a list of asli agents who were authorised to help Goans to take up jobs abroad.
His office and residence were open to anyone who wanted help. I recall being admitted to the ICU block at the GMC — which is normally referred to as the ‘death ward’ as only terminal cases were admitted there. Each ward in the GMC has a couple of independent side rooms which were originally meant for doctors to take rest. These were converted into so called VIP rooms. The Cardiac Department had an arrangement to use one of the VIP rooms.
The so-called VIP room was in terrible shape as it had not been used for a very long time. You could hear rats and bandicoots having a party on the false roof of the so called VIP room. Dr Mesquita came to visit me, as he has always done whenever I was admitted to the GMC. Tara told him about the rats and he himself heard them jumping up and down on the roof.
Dr Mesquita went and met the then superintendent and god knows what magic he worked. From the next night it was all quiet.
If you want better treatment at the GMC you must make sure a VIP comes to visit you. If you can’t find anybody, you can call me as many doctors in the GMC consider me a VIP.
Although Dr Mesquita belonged to the BJP, he was friendly with the leaders of all other parties. I used to in good humour call him the Narad of Hindu mythology who transmitted news from one leader to another without bothering about their political label. Dr Mesquita would visit Digambar Kamat in the morning and Manohar Parrikar in the afternoon and was welcomed by both, though they belonged to different parties. If you wanted to plant a rumour Dr Mesquita was the best bet. By evening the same rumour would come back as a fact, having been repeated so many times.
Mesquita was a man of the people and he fell out with Parrikar after the 2017 election. He did not approve of the manner in which the BJP stole the mandate from the Congress despite having only 13 seats. He did not like the idea of the RSS playing an increasing role in dictating to the BJP. Dr Mesquita was a staunch secularist and respected all religions even in death.
Although he was a Catholic he had told his family that he wanted to be cremated at the Vasco Hindu crematorium. His first choice was an electric crematorium which unfortunately does not exist in Goa. The advantage of an electric crematorium is that the body is reduced to ashes within half hour instead having to watch somebody you love being burned in front of your eyes.
I want to thank Dr Mesquita for being the gentleman he was, with a heart of gold. I also congratulate him for his guts in defying Manohar Parrikar to safeguard the secular character of Goa.
And a few stray thoughts on Goa turning into the wild west with groups engaging in gang wars.
The latest incident in Taleigao and Ribandar is particularly gruesome. After a gang split, the rival members got into a fight near a garage in Nagali hills. Eight members of the splinter group attacked three others with swords and iron rods. The fight went on from Taleigao right up to Ribandar. At Ribandar the hand of a member of the smaller group had his hand chopped off with a sword. All the people involved in this terrible incident which happened late in the evening were niz Goenkars. This is not the first of the gang wars — there have been reports from various parts of Goa about fights between different groups. Activists have also become the target of some of these gangs.
I was reminded of the ‘90s when Goa was ruled not by the Home Minister or the police but by gangs. In Santa Cruz there was the Rudolf gang who were supported by Rudolf’s mother, Victoria Fernandes. I have long suspected it was Rudolf who had me bashed up with iron rods allegedly on the orders of Dayanand Narvekar. There was also a lone gangster who was much feared, called Popat. His modus operandi was to attack people with the broken edge of a beer bottle. Nobody would touch him because his sister was married to Rudolf.
In Merces there was the Rego gang which owned Rego Hotel at the bus stand. Similarly, in Vasco and Margao also, it was the gangs which called the tune. The godfather general of the goons was, of course, Churchill Alemao, who was chief minister for 14 days and controlled the puppet Barbosa government for almost two years. He converted the chief minister’s official residence into a taverna. Nobody felt safe and in one instance I saw the gangster Popat fighting in the ferry from Betim to Panjim, threatening everyone with a broken beer bottle. Those days I was on steroids and had a lot of josh and chased Popat from court to court to ensure that he did not get bail.
When the situation seemed to be getting out of hand Ravi Naik became chief minister again. What he did was to invoke the National Security Act which permitted the government to put anyone in jail for six months without the benefit of bail. Under the NSA, Ravi had all the goons picked up, including Rudolf and Victoria and the godfather general of the goons, Churchill Alemao. Churchill could not be found by the police, may be because they were close friends of his. He hid himself in one of his trawlers out in the sea and had his newly born only son brought to him as he had not seen him since he was born. Churchill has five daughters but only one son. All his daughters have done very well and the son was a pilot for some time. I was there at the Police Headquarters when Churchill Alemao surrendered finally after suddenly surfacing in the Legislative Assembly when police claimed that they could not find him.
The officer who broke the back of the Santa Cruz and Merces gang was then inspector of Panjim, Umesh Gaonkar, who retired as SP. I recall visiting former DG Muktesh Chandra with Umesh Gaonkar for some cybercrime matter when Umesh told the DG how I had helped in the breakup of the Rudolf gang.
One of my colleagues in the Herald, Anthony Fernandes, filed a report on the Rudolf gang starting their own matka in competition with the matka king in Bombay. The gang got to know and told him not to publish the item. Anthony was obstinate and we carried the news item on the Rudolf matka. The same day when he was sitting in a bar at Rua De Ourem called Horse Shoe Bar & Restaurant, three members of the Rudolf gang attacked Anthony with swords. But for the intervention of the bar owner, who had been a commando in Libya, Anthony would have been dead.
If the chief minister wants to bring the gang wars to a stop he should invoke the National Security Act. He can also use it against the taxi mafia who are threatening to paralyse Goa and are terrorizing GoaMiles drivers.
And a few stray thoughts on Chief Minister Pramod Sawant avoiding his promise to find a berth for Michael Lobo in the Cabinet.
The promise was made on Michael Lobo’s birthday. The understanding was that one of the Goa Forward ministers would trade places with Lobo. Vijai Sardesai had apparently agreed that one of the GF MLAs would accept the position of deputy speaker and Michael Lobo would be appointed as Cabinet minister in his place.
Vijai, as much as the BJP, owes a lot of gratitude to Michael Lobo. Even before the results of the 2017 elections were announced, Lobo was a close friend of Vijai Sardesai. It was Lobo who went to Vijai’s house and took him to meet Nitin Gadkari at the 5-star hotel where the BJP hijack drama was taking place.
It may be recalled that though the BJP got only 13 of the 40 seats in the assembly they manage to form the government with the help of Goa Forward, the MGP and the Independents. Michael Lobo was a key factor in bringing the parties to the table but was not rewarded either then or when subsequent opportunities came up.
When there was a crisis over the refusal of MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar to withdraw from Shiroda in the fight against the Congress defectors (he was later defeated by Subhash Shirodkar) the BJP managed to persuade two of the three MGP MLAs to merge with the BJP. It was a disaster for Sudin.
Under the election laws of the country, if 2/3rds of the members of a legislative party merge with another party, it will not attract disqualification. Sudin Dhavalikar could do nothing about the defection of his two MLAs as his brother would not listen to him. Sawant dropped Sudin from his Cabinet, but did not reward Michael. He could also have dropped one of the MGP MLAs who merged with the BJP and given that Cabinet berth to Michael.
Michael’s biggest strength and weakness is that he considers everyone a friend. Unfortunately when it comes to vacating the kodel there are no friends or enemies. Once an MLA gets a kodel he will not give it up unless his forced to.
Given recent political developments it looks like the path to Michael becoming a minister, and preferably the tourism minister, is clear. Pramod Sawant has no power and is being remote-controlled by Satish Dhond, the organising secretary of the BJP.
And a last stray thought on the growing anger against migrants in Goa.
The anger is not against unskilled migrants who are engaged in jobs that Goans are not interested in. Goans don’t mind migrants becoming drivers, masons, plumbers or electricians. But they do mind migrants getting government jobs. However, the ground reality is that the migrants who have been getting the government jobs not only have domicile of 15 years but many of them are born in Goa. The bitter ground reality is that no migrant who comes to Goa ever thinks of going back.
I believe that there are more migrants than locals in Goa now, with an estimated population of 19 lakhs. Unlike in the past, Goa has been attracting migrants from UP, Bihar and Orissa in addition to the traditional migrants from Karnataka. When Goa was liberated there were no technicians, let alone engineers, to run the Electricity, PWD and Water Supply departments. This was because the Portuguese did not have any technical training facilities and those who were in charge of the few facilities returned to Portugal before Liberation.
So a flood of migrants came from Maharashtra to become school teachers in thousands of schools that Dayanand Bandodkar set up after Liberation. Similarly, there was a flood of diploma holders from Kerala and Karnataka to fill up the posts of engineers in the Electricity and PWD Departments.
All those who joined as junior engineers in the Electricity Department have now become executive engineers. But the Goa government is still finding it difficult to find a chief engineer for the Electricity Department which is still headed by a lady engineer from Kerala. This is because the rules specify that unlike in the case of executive engineer, the chief engineer has to be a graduate with ten years’ experience. There are no Goans with the qualifications required or they all have gone abroad and set up their own business.
If you go to the GMC you will think that you are in Kerala rather than Goa. This is because the first generation of migrant nurses have married and settled in Goa and have got their children employed as nurses in the state. Migrants are conscious that Goans resent their getting government jobs. So much so the charge is that many migrants are changing their names to popular Goan surnames so that they can claim government jobs pretending to be Goans. There is even a demand that non-Goans should not be permitted to change their names or at least surnames in Goa. Which means that a Lamani cannot become a Shirodkar.
Part of the problem is that even though knowledge of Konkani is compulsory along with 15 years domicile, most migrants can speak Konkani better than locals. Moreover under the domicile rule they cannot donate the jobs. Jobs for higher positions like Police Inspectors, Excise Inspectors, Regional Transport Officers and Accountants for the Accounts Department are chosen by the Goa Public Service Commission.
What can the GPCC do if Goans cannot pass the computer test prescribed by the GPCC. Obviously Goans do not work hard enough to pass the GPSC exam which now has a strict boss in Jose Manuel Pereira, who will not allow himself to be manipulated by politicians.