DEMOLITION: The Hindutva fanatics are insisting on re-building the Shanta Durga temple in Fatorpa at its original location in Cuncolim. The deity had been shifted to Cuncolim in the past because of threats to the temple during the Portuguese Inquisition.
By Gary Azavedo
Former minister and twice BJP Cortalim MLA ALINA SALDANHA, told GOAN OBSERVER that going back into history to discover where the temples were and demolishing the existing religious structures, will only cause havoc and destroy the prevailing communal harmony in the State. Alina is also very agitated about the double tracking of the South Western Railway, the expansion of the highways and the setting up of a 400 Mega Watt transmitter in the heart of the Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary.
GOAN OBSERVER (GO): Why did you quit the BJP?
ALINA SALDANHA (AS): Yes, it wasn’t easy for me to quit BJP because I am a person who develops ties with my people over a long period of time. But, unfortunately, I realised that BJP was not there for the common man of the State because the projects that were being dumped onto the people of Goa were anti-people, especially the three linear projects, the doubling (double tracking) of the South Western Railways (SWR) track.
When you know that double tracking is going to fall inside the compound of the houses how is it okay? The residents of the houses affected will not be able to live in those houses and how do you take care of that? How can you go ahead with such a project? And it is not just about one or two or five houses. It is about an entire stretch of houses through the villages of south Goa. I think this was a cruel act that was being wrought upon the people of south Goa. And also I felt that as far as the environment is concerned, much focus was not being given.
So I felt that if the government is not with the people because it does not cater to goals that are people-oriented, people of the State, then I felt I was in the wrong party. I kept reading lots of things and realised I had to move away. It was time to take a stand and quit the party.
GO: As former environment and tourism minister, did you feel the three linear projects would destroy the environment? You did raise protests write to the Prime Minister appealing to him and his Union Cabinet colleagues?
AS: Yes, I did. For example, the highway project passes through the Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. We have definite laws that govern our protected wildlife areas. As the former forest minister, I am aware of what is allowed and what is not allowed within a wildlife sanctuary. When I was a minister, I wanted to give the people living in the Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and all the other wildlife sanctuaries proper roads. And when we went into the actual process, I realised that it was not possible to give them an asphalted road, definitely not a hot-mixed road.
We were only allowed to level the ground and blacktop it so that they know that this is the area where you can move. We have stringent rules governing wildlife sanctuaries. Then suddenly I hear of a highway through the Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary wherein the PCCF (Principal Chief Conservator of Forests) of the Forest Department was explaining to everybody how there will be underground bypasses, overhead bridges…I asked him “For whom is all this infrastructure that you are talking about?” The reply, “It is for the movement of the animals.”
So I literally laughed and I asked him, “Who is going to be there to direct the animals through the underground bypasses and overhead bridges?” I said, “Animals move by instinct. Animals move by habit. So you are going to destroy the wildlife of the area.” This cannot be accepted. I will definitely not say okay to such a project. But the project is still being envisaged and pursued and will be totally disastrous for the animals and destruction of the state.
GO: You said you were reading some things in the newspapers? Which made you feel it was time to say goodbye to the BJP?
AS: No, it is not just what I read in the papers. But it was what I was confronting every now and then in my day-to-day activities. And the last statement made by the honorable chief minister of Goa really shocked me!
GO: Please clarify which statement? Are you referring to the statement made by Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant that “temples which were demolished during Portuguese rule should be reconstructed for mandir sanskriti”?
AS: No, I am not against construction of temples. Wherever a temple is needed, it has to be constructed. Wherever a church is needed, it has to be constructed. Wherever a mosque is needed, it has to be constructed. But what I am definitely scared about is don’t go back into time to find out where the temples were. If today, there is no temple and there is another structure, whichever, you go to demolish that structure to build a temple? Build a temple where it is needed, please do it!
I think we need to get closer to God but not by demolishing what exists. If you do that it will create havoc in the state. You are going to divide the various communities of the State and we, the people of Goa are used to living like brothers and sisters. I know that for a fact.
I grew up in Mapusa although my ancestral home is in Calangute. My dad had a house because of his practice as a lawyer in Mapusa, so I grew up there. My house in Mapusa is surrounded by Hindu houses and every house around my house was like my own home. I could walk in and walk out any time of the day and the same applied to the members of the various families because that was the bond that we shared and we still share.
Now for Christmas, my sister-in-law made neuros. The only homes she sent neuros to belong to other communities in the area and they, too, reciprocated the emotional bonds. I don’t want anything to destroy that harmony between communities which exists in Goa.
GO: What do you feel about the legacy of former defence minister and chief minister, the late Manohar Parrikar? Whose image of being an upright administrator was feared and loved by his critics and supporters, including your husband Matanhy Saldanha who joined the BJP thinking that it was secular and respected women legislators like you?
AS: Definitely, sir Parrikarji was a great personality, a great administrator and very intelligent, a man with a heart. You know? You could touch the pulse and his heart beat for Goa and the people of Goa. And if you appealed to him, stating that something is not right or somebody is going to be hurt…he would do the needful, that was his greatness.
I think the reason why Matanhy Saldanha joined the BJP is because of sir Parrikar’s presence in the party. He respected him for his intelligence, more importantly for his hard work. You know he was a workaholic! You could find him working at one o’clock in the morning. You could find him working at seven in the morning. Matanhy admired him, his sincerity, his hard work, his presence attracted people towards the BJP. Before Matanhy joined the BJP, he had submitted a list of his own demands for Goa and the people of Goa.
GO: Can you share with us some of these major demands?
AS: First, communal harmony then all the works that would be undertaken for the benefit of the people. I have this list which I shall speak with you on another occasion because I want to go exactly (as he did). What he did was when he drafted his list, he went priority wise…the most important issues he placed first, so I would like to talk about it exactly the way Matanhy put down his priorities.
GO: What about respect for women within the BJP? You were the sole BJP woman legislator elected on the BJP symbol but certain remarks made during the BJP legislative party meeting have hurt you?
AS: No, I cannot speak anything else but the truth. And I have to say no member of the BJP ever made me feel small or disrespected. I think they always treated me with respect. But maybe certain stands that they took in the government, forgetting my presence as the only BJP elected representative of the people. They did not give me due consideration but I was okay. Frankly, my people were upset. And I was upset because my people of Cortalim constituency were upset. They said, “Madam, how can somebody else be considered above you when you are the only BJP mahila?”
GO: A particular minister made a remark in a newspaper report which upset you, was it Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho or someone else?
AS: I am not very sure about what remarks but yes, Mauvin Godinho has no principles, okay? He walks in and out…he was always trespassing on my constituency. There is no protocol followed by him at all. What upset me is that the party was aware of this but never bothered about this behavior in my constituency. Making false claims like saying “I have done this!” I mean behaving like a child. You cannot claim what others have done, saying that you have done it when you have not done a single project for the 20 years that you represented Cortalim constituency.
That upset me a lot because I do not expect a man of his age to resort to lying. That is lying, blatant lying! He has tried to say that the Cortalim market project was his project. Not at all! The plan for the market project was done by Matanhy Saldanha along with architect Shalini Saxena. Of course, the project was not executed. So when I stepped into his shoes, I took up exactly the same project with some small changes here and there. And for this I got under RTI, all the information from GSIDC (Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation), the date when the plan was submitted, everything. I don’t expect a man of his age to resort to lying and I challenged him to show me one project that he has done!
GO: Did he respond and accept your challenge?
AS: No, he has not responded to my challenge. But some media person told me that he said that he has done the Panchayat Ghar of Cansaulim. Now the Panchayat Ghar of Cansaulim is about this room (points out to her office room in Housing Board, Upasnagar, Sancoale), a little bigger than this room. That’s it and above the Cansaulim panchayat, there is a community hall which was done by the MP (Member of Parliament) of the day with the MPLAD funds! The name board is there stating who it is.
GO: With regard to the coal hub it was the late Manohar Parrikar who had opposed this coal project in Goa, what is your take on this important issue?
AS: Yes, Parrikarji had said very clearly that doubling cannot happen through the villages of south Goa and at the most it can come only up to Majorda. That’s it! But he definitely did not want double tracking through the villages of south Goa because he was aware of the destruction the project would cause. I took the honorable Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant on the tracks. I demarcated where the second track will land and he saw it with his own eyes, I must say he was taken aback when he saw where the tracking would land.
GO: Who is misleading the BJP government?
AS: I really don’t know because I think they are all seniors. They have to be responsible because they are holding responsible posts. They have to know exactly because they are responsible for the common man of the State. If ours is a democratic government, a government that is of the people, for the people and by the people, I think every elected representative is bound to his people. Whatever they do it has to be keeping in mind the welfare and good of the people who have voted for him or her.
GO: You have been quoted in media reports saying that “the BJP is not aware of who is coming into the party and who is going out of the party,” any comments?
AS: At the moment you don’t what is happening, nobody knows! I was also hearing all the time that “Oh, the party is not going to give you a ticket.” But in my heart I used to say how can the party stay without giving me a ticket? I have worked sincerely. There is never a day I take leave. Fortunately, I have not been sick. God has been good to me. So never have I been away from my office even during COVID times, during the pandemic, during the lockdowns, I was in my office every day.
I distributed rations to the people of Cortalim constituency three times. Of course, I have to also say that I was able to do this because many of the industries like Cipla and others helped me.
GO: Why did you choose the Aam Admi Party (AAP) over the other political parties such as the Trinamool Congress that is also fighting the forthcoming assembly elections in Goa?
AS: I decided to join the Aam Admi Party (AAP). I was hearing so many things about AAP, about what they were doing for the common man like giving free water, free power, health clinics, and schooling for the children. So I said, “Yes, this is fantastic if they are giving all this to the people. But I have to go to Delhi and see for myself whether this is really the reality of the Arvind Kejriwal’s governance, okay?” I did not go and meet the honorable Delhi Chief Minister (Arvind Kejriwal).
First, when I landed in Delhi, I entered two-three houses and I inquired about the free electricity and free water that they were getting and they told me, “Yes, we are getting” and they showed me the bills, zero up to 300 units. Above that, you pay. But the common man on whom the focus is being given does not consume more than that…the others who consume more they pay. So that was true!
I visited the health clinics. Every ward has a health clinic and people do not have to travel distances to see a doctor. The doctor is available at the clinic. All testing is done at the clinic and if the case is serious then the patient is referred to a hospital. Health is almost at the doorstep of residents of the ward. Then schooling – free schooling. One of the best schools that I have ever seen! It is like schools at hill stations. Where you have to pay through your nose…parents pay to get their children into those schools.
In Delhi, there are similar schools for the children of the common people and I saw this with my own eyes, the students and their parents, I could see that they were a mixture of the rich and the poor.
GO: In Delhi, women travel for free in the buses. Why isn’t Arvind Kejriwal making this promise of free bus travel for Goans or Goan women?
AS: In Delhi, it is no longer a promise but a practice. Bus travel is free for the women and the reason why it is free for women is because those women seeking employment, who need to travel further distances to find employment, they can travel freely by the bus that is provided for them…they can find employment and after their work hours, they can return home in the same bus free of cost. It is a big help for the common man.
I firmly believe that the Aam Admi party has lived up to its name. And that is I have decided to join the AAP because it is a party of the common man for the benefit of the common man.
GO: You have been a former environment, tourism and forests minister so if AAP comes to power in Goa, will you stake your claim for the chief ministership?
AS: Please… I have not even given a thought…not at all…for me, like the honourable Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, I am not here for power. I am here to work. He always says, “I don’t know politics. I only know hard work.” And I can say, “I only want to work for the benefit of the common man and if I manage to do something for the common man that will improve their life, my goal is fulfilled!” Minister or Chief Minister has not entered my mind at all! I am only focused on what the AAP can do for the benefit of the common man and that is my goal to ensure that this reaches the Sate of Goa.
GO: In Cortalim constituency there is another AAP aspirant, Joel Fernandes. If you are denied party nomination will you quit the party and contest as an independent candidate or join some other political party?
AS: You should ask this question to the party representatives because I would not like to answer. The party knows best what its stand with reference to Joel is and what is its stand with reference to me, Alina Saldanha.
GO: What are your views on family raj, dynasty politics and corrupt, tainted politicians getting the party nomination to contest in the assembly elections scheduled for February 2022?
AS: I definitely believe and think that any sensible citizen will say, “We don’t want corrupt men. We don’t want criminals to represent us.” Am I right? We want honest, hardworking citizens to represent us so that our goals are fulfilled.