THE WHITE ELEPHANTS OF GOVERNMENT!

Mockery of public money. A mirror in one of the washrooms at the Goa Legislative Assembly!

IT was a budget day and for media people it means attending the Goa Legislative Assembly across the stagnating casino-cluttered river Mandovi and on to Porvorim. The new sprawling Goa Legislative Assembly, ensconced in manicured garden grounds, is this large ice-cream styled three-storeyed monster building. Basically the blocks merge into one another through winding staircases, corridors, past MLAs/ministers rooms, secretarial rooms, tombstone lifts which few feel like using in case they get stuck in them and no amount of crying for help is heard!
I imagine it’s a bhoot bangla really to be maintained but minimally used except when LA is in session for a few times annually. Not for the first time I thought, wow, so many enviable toilet blocks — with large mirrors to preen before. Never mind if the mirrors on the window sides have tarnished beyond recognition and offer garish hilarious images if one so much as tries to find oneself reflected in them! The plumbing is falling part in bits and pieces and breathe a sigh of relief if one of the taps yields water. Superficial looks can always belie ground realities, my dears.
IT is a fairly new sprawling artistically designed piece of architecture and undoubtedly may boast of a grand central chamber room where the chair-desk arrangements of the various MLAs/ministers are: one side ruling party members sit, on the other Opposition members. Overlooking it all are the visitors and media gallaries which offer a fairly close up view of the goings on in session and of course betray the foibles and manners of our honorable politicians in action! If I may so a few days spent out here at the Goa Legislative Assembly blocks offers insight both educative and entertaining.
Most of our politicians are men of course and currently the two women legislators are either celebrated widows or wives of politician past and present. Most media photographers hang around down at the entrance to catch our public representatives as they step out of their mostly white cars or limousines and are agreeable to reporters or posing for picture. Otherwise one may find oneself hanging around the rooms where MLAs rest and recreate in the hope that they will emerge and speak to media people. Once a session is in progress it becomes difficult to catch a politician for any length of time.
WHEN a session got boring this time around I found myself wandering around to discover a most useful library where may catch up with research or some reading or some services. Adjoining are the MLAs luncheon room, a little close by the media room well equipped with computers and other facilities (media working out from here get tea, popular fried snacks, whatever literature is prepared by the LA secretariat and there’s a good LCD screen detailing whatever is going on up in the house – in fact, if one wishes one may catch it all from the media room itself and not bother to the media gallery to save on working time.
I remember a time when the LA was a far more friendly place, nowadays surveillance rules and somebody or another may enquire if they think you’re wandering around purposelessly looking for some MLA’s room. In the old days a former convivial chief minister or MLA had no problems telling a correspondent to “come along, let’s go get some lunch and you can talk with me while we eat!” Nowadays it’s become difficult to be a journalist waiting for “darshan” and some media friendliness.
How have our politicians became such frightful VVIPs and VIPs? There are several protocol screens if you’re seeking an interview or a moment to exchange some conversation with them; phone calls are ignored or some secretary snaps you put your requests online and depending on which media and who you are, you may or may not get a response. There is favored media and persona non grata media forever asking awkward questions which sound so meaningless today considering what an autocratic democracy we are becoming.
GONE are the days when politicians were more genial, friendly and human as old-fashioned “government servants” — like they still like to call themselves of course but rarely are! Today many of our politicians come with criminal credentials (unheard of before) and are least interested in media coverage of the tiresome democratic kind. It’s leave me alone or don’t ask questions, just listen! It is a sorry story of survival if you’re from a media company which puts out unfavorable reviews of some politician’s wrongdoings. Opposition media is really in the dog house.
To say the least here our political scenario has become pretty numb and boring. It was my first day at the LA where I’d gone to listen in to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s budget speech. But it came at the end of a long day by which time most media had to rush back to the media room or far flung offices to file copy. There was a lot of bantering socializing going on between the members of the house.
Lunch break I wasn’t able to get myself a lunch coupon for love or for money to the free media lunch buffet. Then I found myself discovering the lunch room of the servicing folk and must say I was happy here with my veg thali meal for Rs50, shared a table and chatted with a young woman constable. Her fish thali with modso or bangdo fry was Rs80 (she said modso fish thali was Rs120)…of course if you’re a pukka Goan you’ll never eat a veg thali.
If I remember right at one time media could eat at the MLAs lunch room but no longer. Of course with the electric media booming away the media battalion has grown and only one photographer or correspondent is entitled to a lunch coupon, very funny. A separate buffet table is set up for media. If you’re small fry media and don’t get a honorary lunch coupon you may fast or find the servicing folk’s paid for canteen (which is partially subsidized but you buy your own water bottle).
LUNCH excitement over with it was back to assembly hall to catch the excitement of senior Pratapsingh Rane being feted and felicitated for being a legislator for half a century. Many had favorite sob stories to recount of political experiences with Mr Rane, especially MLA Mauvin Goudinho. Question Hour are most interesting when questions get answered or shoved around with Speaker Rajesh Patnekar trying to be firm but supportive of the ruling party most times!
I must say our Opposition largely of former chief ministers (Rane senior, Diagambar Naik who is one hardworking Leader of Opposition currently, Ravi Naik, Churchill Alemao, Luizinho Faleiro) are in fine fettle long since past their prime. They take themselves seriously and are fighting fit except that few from the smug ruling BJP party take them seriously. It’s mostly childish dueling in English or Konkani. The name of the game is pass time and let the chief minister do all the work!
Amongst the Opposition and Independents the younger trio of Vijai Sardessai, Reginald Lourenco and Rohan Khaunte are seasoned, eloquent politicians, far more so than the fat cat defectors roosting in the ruling party! As long as political defection is allowed nothing is going to happen in our democrazy. Not for the first time by the end of the day I found myself thinking how much in ivory towers our politicians live once they reap power and riches at the expense of the public exchequer.
For example, the LA is hardly in session around the year and for much of the year it’s a bhoot bangla guzzling money in maintenance; and yet every year the government of the day continues to invest in more grand buildings, memorials, celebrations – I call them the white elephants of a government with misplaced priorities! More and more grandee infrastructure for the wellbeing of government at the expense of the wellbeing of a public in dire need of a primary first world infrastructure! Even in rich little Goa it’s a witch hunt for water, power, public transportation around the clock.
Damn it, if I want to go to Margao it takes me a day to go and return to Panaji. In Mumbai an electric train service would have seen the trip done in half a day! These hot days the cries of water and power is frightening…and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s government boasts of Rs400 crore for celebrations? Celebrating what? The good fortune being in power by hook or by crook and definitely not the arrival of the country’s favorite holiday state into the 21st century for sure!
Increasingly our politicians specialize in promises and lies and we see evidence of this all around us. I mean just visit the manner in which capital city Panaji roads are being patched up here and here so disgracefully…pavements, gutters, water bodies, public gardens, trees continue to suffer for want of common sense, public-friendliness and security. Porvorim MLA Rohan Khaunte in one of the sessions was furious over public spaces set aside in his constituency turning into havens for illegal activities without minimum maintenance and security!
But my favorite politician is Curtorim Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco whose voters are true blue Goans and not migrant vote banks. We have quite a few sinners pretending to be saints and saints pretending to be sinners in our political arena or something like that. Nowadays we have an increasing number of Christian Hindu politicians but are there any Hindu Christian politicians? If ghar wapasi spreads to the minority communities, then what?
Think about all this while I go take a break. If you really want food for thought see what is happening in neighboring Burma, now Myanmar, where the military is perched on rooftops and shooting down protesting Burmese aam aadmi, poets and singers. The question to ask is how long before India too degenerates into another banana republic a la Myanmar?
On that note it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, au revoir, arrivedecci and vachun yetta here for now.

— Mme Butterfly

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