JUGALBANDI: Goa Forward which was supposed to extend support to Digambar Kamat for the CM’s post in the 2017 election, has returned to the Congress to fight the civic elections to the Margao municipal council. A large part of the constituencies of the Margao municipality fall in the Fatorda segment of the Legislative Assembly represented by MLA Vijai Sardesai.

By Leslie st. Anne

The elections in the five remaining civic bodies including Margao and Mapusa are scheduled for April 23 despite the covid-19 upsurge. Margao strongman Digambar Kamat has joined hands with Goa Forward President Vijai Sardesai for the Margao municipality and are favored to defeat the BJP group.

THE Goa government’s tacit decision to lend political ‘color’ to elections, to what hitherto were apolitical civic bodies such as municipal councils, zilla panchayats and panchayats, is certainly an ugly trend. The decision to contest these civic polls using ‘proxy’ panels backed by prominent local politicians must be construed as dress rehearsals or a litmus-test to gauge the pulse of the people and act accordingly to hone in party strategies for the forthcoming Legislative Assembly (LA) elections early next year.
Unfortunately, for the common man, these political overtures have proved detrimental to availing of necessary civic amenities that sustain their quality of life. The state has already witnessed the unpleasant whiplash of having these civic administrative ‘panels’, unofficially backed and perhaps covertly financed by political outfits. In Curchorem in Quepem taluka, the newly elected municipal chairman, barely had time to warm up his throne before he was brusquely ousted with a no – confidence motion — tabled by the BJP-backed Opposition. Subsequently, in Bicholim in north Goa, the Congress-I restored parity, with an identical move, where they had ‘their’ man head the fresh Council.
Against such a backdrop the civic polls in Goa’s commercial hub, the city of Margao, has assumed great significance. Margao is considered as a volatile political nucleus of Salcete taluka and exerts a great influence on the south Goa mindset, that had once been considered a bastion of the Congress-I party. The outcome of the April 23 polling therefore will depend on four political stalwarts; namely Vijay Sardessai, the leader of the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and current Fatorda MLA who supports the ‘Fatorda Forward’ (FF) Panel, his bête noir ex-Fatorda MLA and BJP leader Damu Naik who pledges support to Vibrant Margao (VM), Alexio Reginald Lourenco, Curtorim MLA who could exert some sway on three seats of the Margao Municipal Council—by virtue of these being located in his Curtorim constituency) and finally, former chief minister and present Congress-I MLA of Margao Digambar Kamat who allegedly owes allegiance to the Model Margao (MM) group.
A fourth independent panel in the fray is Citizen’s Choice (CC) — an amalgamation of reportedly three social activist groups. However, although those reportedly associated with these contesting panels are seasoned veterans in the field, it comes as a breath of fresh air that a majority of the candidates for the 25 councilor positions at stake, are of youthful demeanor given to ‘idealistic and out-of-the box rationality — a much required elixir to find viable solutions to Margao’s rising and challenging problems.
Not unexpectedly, the manifestos submitted for public scrutiny by the various panels in the fray share common issues. Prominent among them, being the garbage grievance or waste management — which has been a thorn on the side of the MMC since the early-80s. Says a senior Margao citizen who wishes to remain anonymous, “Local governments have come and gone, as have municipal councils, but the garbage pile on Mount Sonsodo has only been rising as our city fathers scratch their heads in despair and waste precious funds in hiring so-called professional waste management firms to rid our city of the menace but to no avail.”
Correctly, adjudging the sensitivity of the garbage issue, the panels were quick to make political capital of it with lofty promises to the electorate. The BJP-supported Vibrant Margao vowed to “clean Sonsodo by 2022 and have it removed by 2024” while Fatorda Forward was more cautious. Accusing the BJP of “seeking to politicize the Sonsodo Dump” by failing to clear it even though Rs42 crore had been paid by the MMC to have the dump razed, FF floater Vijay Sardessai is reported to have said that the FF would treat this grievance on a “top-priority” basis. As for Model Margao, they were a little hedgy over the Sonsodo affair. The panel proposed to “set up a system in a more scientific manner” to handle garbage. The dark horse in the contest, Citizens Choice, also listed tackling the Sonsodo menace as part of its campaign manifesto, as well as clearing up the mess at the old fish market caused by baling work.
Margao, located on the bank of the river Sal, which serves as the administrative headquarters of south Goa, also doubles as the cultural and commercial capital of Goa with its celebration of arts, films, festivals, food, music, sports as well as flourishing business activities – a fact that is not lost on those seeking to occupy the imposing Portuguese era municipal building after results of the April 23 civic poll.
It comes as no surprise then that a commitment towards preserving and restoring heritage structures and homes around the magnificent edifice of the Holy Spirit Church — as a subtle bid to promote tourism — also ranks high in the manifestos of contesting panels. Over the years, Margao’s suburbia, which include, Aquem, Fatorda, Gogol, Borda, Comba, Navelim and Davorlim have been areas of intense development with commercial and residential buildings sprouting up like mushrooms. Too bad that facilities like a proper sewage system, sanitation facilities, storm drainage, parking spaces, 24×7 water and electricity supply, have not been provided at an equal pace. “These are issues that have to be addressed post-haste,” points out a retired accounts manager – a resident of Comba. “We pay several taxes like garbage tax, house tax and even a parking tax religiously without complaint, but do we get service? Margao, has a network of 29 arterial roads and a national highway running through it. One can only imagine how difficult it is to find parking spaces for one’s vehicles. And then too, these roads have to be maintained time and again. Sometimes, due to lack of co-ordination with municipal and government departments of PWD or Telephones, the roads are opened up to lay cables, a process causing much hardship and inconvenience to citizens.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic resurge casts a pall of gloom over the city, interaction between candidates and citizens are strained and limited. Some can’t put forward their complaints as diverse as the need for better intra-city bus-service and a suggestion for shifting of the South Goa Planning & Development Authority Fish Market, based on the logic that fish is collected at coastal villages and brought to Margao, where it is again distributed to be sold in the same villages! By relocating this SGPDA market somewhere along the coast it would help in reducing pollution and congestion in Margao and make it easier for fish retailers in the villages to sell their catch at fairer prices.
One should have thought that as the threat of the Covid-19 second wave reaching a peak loomed large, it would have deterred enthusiastic campaigning for the municipal polls in Margao — given the imposed restrictions. To the contrary the BJP threw its last trump card on the table with none other than Chief Minister Pramod Sawant making his presence felt in Margao and Fatorda. Touring the wards in the company of Vibrant Margao candidates the CM implored “Madganvkars to bring about a change in the MMC for a better and cleaner commercial city.” Apparently, the BJP is determined to gain control of as many civic bodies in the state – no matter what the price! And it wouldn’t be far-fetched, if one witnessed the flip-side of mainstream politics, where candidates are truly offered cash and kind incentives to withdraw in favor of their opponents, as alleged by a senior citizen from Navelim.
Meanwhile, as the D-Day for the Margao municipal elections arrives, it is obvious that the outcome will be dependent on the people-skill of the “patrons” of each panel. Fatorda’s MLA Vijay Sardessai had earned a lot of admiration and respect for his tangible development works in Fatorda constituency. However, he lost face when he was instrumental in joining forces with the late Manohar Parrikar to snatch the state administration for the BJP in 2017.
Even though Vijay has admitted to having committed a blunder at the time, it is hardly likely that enough time has elapsed to heal wounds. Nonetheless, being a shrewd strategist himself, he could win the day for the Fatorda Forward Panel.
Likewise, Margao MLA and Leader of the Opposition Digamber Kamat, has been known for his ardent work in ensuring the beautification of Margao city. He has been responsible for underground electric cabling and a beautiful recreational park — Ana Fonte — with a musical fountain, maintained by the Goa Forest Department. Kamat’s popularity appears to remain steady.
With an alliance with Goa Forward’s Sardessai and Curtorim MLA Alexio Reginald Lourenco, the scales are tipped in favor of the Opposition forces. But, given the BJP’s knack for stealth operations and extensive use of media, social, electronic and print, one can’t rule out the “color” of saffron in the hallowed halls of the Margao municipal council.

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