ALLIANCE: Will the Church accept the alliance led by the NCP which includes the 10 Congress MLAs and 2 MGP MLAs who defected to BJP, with Reginaldo Lourenco as the candidate for CM?
By Rajan Narayan
Though in the past individual parish priests have played a major role in electoral politics in the state, their influence has been reduced consequent to the reduction in the percentage of the Catholic population due to mass migration.
HISTORICALLY the church has played a major role in Goan politics. The Archibishop himself does not at least publically direct the flock to vote for a specific party. But over the decades the Bishops have lost control over the parish priest who are the law unto themselves. And Parish Priest have always paid a major role in elections at all levels, particularly assembly elections in Goa. The Church has a major influence on the selection of congress candidates in Salcete and other catholic dominated constituencies.
In Taleigao for instance the late Fr Concesao used to be the strong supporter of Babush Monsarrate. Fr Concesao light the good life and the Monserrate ensure that he lacked nothing. I recall the occasion when a Founder Director of Goan Observer, Florian Lobo, contesting the elections against Babush Monsarrete in Taliegoa. I recall that Arvind Bhatikar, the former chairman of the Marmugoa Port Trust and I address the public meeting in a paddy field virtually opposite the house of Babush Monserrate. The compare was Babita Angle, who was the mayor of Margao Municipality for quite some time recently. We were shocked over the poor attendant by Catholics at the public meeting. We later learned that the Parish Priest had been preaching sermons in favour of Babush Monserrate. Even the paddy field where the public meeting was held has given way to a huge building complex.
In Santa Cruz the former Director of Dysosian Education, Fr Francisco Avinash Rebello, was the parish priest. At every function held by the parish the goon, Rudolf Fernandes or his mother Mummy dearest, Victoria Fernandes, was the chief guest. I recalled asking him once why he was extending patronage to the goons of Santa Cruz who were notorious. The police even believe that they were involved not only in my assault for forcing Dayanand Narvekar to resign his position as speaker but also the brutal assault on Anthony Fernandes the Herald Chief reporter for the plans of Rudolf to start a Goan Matka. FR Avinash defended himself by claiming that the extended generous support to the church.
The politician who has exploited his religion to the maximum extent is the Navelim MLA and former chief minister Luzinho Falerio. Quite besides being the darling of the Bishop and the Navelim parish priest, Luzinho also became very close to Sonia Gandhi. This is because Sonia Gandhi is a very devote Italian Catholic. Italians are very religious and indeed the Vatican city where the Pope Francis, resides is in Italy. Luzinho along with his senior colleague Eduardo Falerio used to attend the same church in New Delhi as Sonia Gandhi. The senior Falerio also had the advantage of knowing Rahul and Priyanka closely. This is because of his late wife Muriel Falerio, who use to teach French to the children.
Eduardo Falerio, was made a minister of state in charge of important portfolios like finance and external affairs dues to his proximity to the Gandhis. Similarly Luzinho Falerio, when he lost the election to Churchil Alemao in 2012 from Navelim, was take upstairs as secretary of the All India Congress Committee. HE was promoted to general secretary and appointed as the observer for the predominantly Christian north eastern state. But for Luzinho Falerio the BJP would not have formed the government in 2017. With 17 of the 40 seats and a pre-poll understanding with Goa Forwards Vijai Sardesai, Digambar Kamat was scheduled to become the Chief Minister. But Luzinho Falerio is alleged to have told Rahul Gandhi that if Digambar was appointed chief minister, the BJP at the centre may arrest him for his alleged involvement in the mining scam. Which was why the high command observer Digvijay Singh refused to stake a claim to form the government in 2017.
KABAB MAI HADDI
The situation has not changed since then and the congress is in the dumps because of the fight between Luzinho and Digambar. ‘Kabab mai haddi’ attitude of Luzinho has killed the congress in Goa. Luzinho will not permit anyone else to be projected as the chief ministerial candidate in the 2022 election which infact may be held even later this year. Even if Luzinho has objections to Digambar, he should have extended support Reginald Laurance who seems to be the most popular candidate for the post. The only congress leader who has consistently been critical of the BJP within an outside the legislative assembly. But as long as Luzinho Falerio has his Delhi link he will not permit any other congress MLA to take the top post. The control of the Luzinho Falerio over the catholic church is so powerful that you cannot get admission to the catholic schools in Margao without the patronage of his wife Rachel.
Over the years a group of parish priest have become so powerful that they have virtually taken over the church. Most of them are part of the construction lobby within the church. Builders are not limited to private businessman like the late Peter Vaz. Who incidentally enjoyed the patronage of the Bishop and most of the Model projects have come up on the land gifted to the church by Cannon Suter Mayor. Peter Vaz, promoted a models projects on the power of attorney given to them by the church. Many of the most powerful bishops have promptly undertaken renovation of the church they have been posted.
Fr Diogo Fernandes, had made extensive renovation to the Colva church which attracts a lot of people as it has the image of the baby Jesus. The feast of the church is celebrated as Fama. Whenever the builder parish priest take over a church they always add extensions to increase the income of the church. Like the shopping complex attached to the St Inez church. I recall that then reporter Calvert Fernandes, wrote a piece on misappropriation of funds in renovating the Colva church. Very promptly at the instigation parish priest to busloads of followers of the priest landed in the Gona Observer office at La Campala Colony and try to thresh the place. I was concerned about our women employees but they were more concerned about me more bashed up. After a call to the bishop and his secretary, the crowd went back without causing much harm.
The church is again expected to play a major role in the forthcoming elections. Expecting that the democrats have been changed. According to the national census the percentage of catholic of Goa was 31% in 1981. In the 2001 census it was below 25%. There is been large scale migration of Goans using the opportunity of being eligible for the Portuguese passport for three generations. There are whole villages where the demography have changed. For instance in St Andre thanks to the help of the local parish priest the late Fr Freddy D Costa a large part of the catholics have migrated to France. Which is why for the first time in the 2017 election, Vishnu Wagh, a Hindu was elected from the St Andre assembly seat.
The drop in the catholic population has been made up by a huge increase in the migrant population. A large part of the migrant population are Muslims from Karnataka and others parts of the country including UP. Indeed after the Godra genocide in Gujarat post Godhra, Goa is consider the safest heaven for muslims. It is estimated that the Muslim population of Goa has gone up less than 1% at the time of liberation to around 15 to 17% in the last two decades. IT must however be clarified that the migrants who have come to Goa comprise more Hindus than Muslims.
The result is that the influence of the church or rather individual parish priest has come down. IT is the migrants who now are calling the queue. It has estimated that migrants might now constitute atleast 40% of the population. Senior leaders like Digambar Kamat and Babush Monserrate keep getting re-elected because of their predominantly migrant Muslim vote bank. Unfortunately Catholics in Goa do not realise that it was on their interest to unite with the migrant Muslims. Together they can defeat the BJP and form an alternate government in 2022.
NO single party will get a clear majority in the 2022 election. The situation is complicated by the number of parties have multiplied. As if to compensate for the lack of social parties in night clubs and marriage halls, there has been an explosion in the number of political groups. The aam adam party is increasingly confident of winning the Goa Assembly election and has been distributing rations and promising free power up to 300 mega watts. There is the Goencho Avaz NGO which plans to register as a party. The leader of the group Captain Viriato Fernandes has staked his claim for the Dabolim seat now held by Mauvin Gudinho who shifted from congress to BJP. Then there is a mysterious Goa revolution party headed by Manoj Parab, about whom nobody knows anything. This is beside the Goa Forward party and the Maharashtriawadi Gomanatak Party.
Clearly the votes will be split. Clearly no party including the BJP and the Congress will get a clear majority. Nobody knows what will happen to the ten congress and the two MGP MLAs who have joined the BJP. They may not get a ticket either from the congress or the BJP. At the national level the NCT chief Sharad Pawar, has demonstrated that he is the only political leader who can get the various groups and parties to form an alliance. Pawar is the master of the alliance game when he toppled the congress government became the chief minister of the Progressive Democratic Front Government which was the alliance of several parties. So similarly we hope Sharad Pawar will take the initiative to form a progressive democratic government in Goa instead of the regressive saffron government led by Pramod Sawant but controlled by Satish Dhond.
MASTER OF ALLIANCES SHARAD PAWAR
Sharad Pawar first came to power 1970 as the leader of the Progressive Democratic Front which toppled the then Congress Government. Pawar formed an alliance of the left and socialists parties.
After the elections is Maharastra Sharad Pawar managed to keep the BJP out of power. The BJP which had ruled the state for 5 years could not get even a simple majority in the elections held last year in Maharastra. Power stepped in and formed the alliance of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. It was agreed that Uddhav Thackery will be the chief minister while Ajit Pawar of the NCP will be deputy chief minister. Pawar showed in Maharastra, that in politics there are no friends or enemies but only alliance partners.
Sharad pawar is trying to form an alliance in the centre to make sure that the BJp does not come back a third time in the 2024 Parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, India does not have a rule unlike US, that the same party cannot have more than two terms in government. Recently, Pawar convened a meeting of all the opposition parties including Congress, Samjawadi party, Trinamool Congress and several other groups to form the rashtriya manch to take on the BJP.
The surprise element is that the master strategist Prashant Kishor may be the link between the various groups. Kishor who was responsible for the victory of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections also helped Nitish Kumar in the Bihar elections. More recently, he helped Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Stalin of DMK in Tamilnadu.
Prashant Kishor has had several meetings with Sharad Pawar. Significantly, he has also met other opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi. With the help of master strategists Sharad Pawar hopes to form an alliance wich will be able to keep the BJP out!