Goa Chamber hosted the 3rd edition of ‘Leaders at GCCI’ event: The guest speaker was M J Akbar, former MoS External Affairs of India, in conversation with GCCI president Shrinivas Dempo. The talk was about India’s changing dynamics in the world. MJ Akbar was all praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visionary outlook vis-à-vis India and reaching out to neighbors from Iran in the west to Singapore in the east. Amongst other things he said the country is growing up wisely and the outlook of the Indian Navy has changed from a port-based Navy to a super power across our blue territory. He also urged all to read his latest book “Gandhi: A Life in Three Campaigns.”

LATELY a lot has been happening in capital city Panaji offering a lot of food for thought! I miss some, I catch some. I like the new series the Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI) has introduced called “Leaders at GCCI” – anyone who is somebody is invited to have a conversation with the business community of Goa.
I had missed the previous two conversations with Mohandas Pai and Shazia Ilmi, but this time I was determined to go and listen to none other than the thought-provoking, rather famous (some would say infamous too) but always thought-provoking journalist-politician-author MJ Akbar. He was in town to offer insight into what could be happening in a rapidly transforming India or Bharat (as you wish) at the GCCI’s Surendrababu Timblo convention Hall in Panaji on Thursday, February 1, 2024.
These days I get very confused between politics past and present and future but then politics is not my cup of tea! Which does not mean we must take an interest in politics for it is the politics of the times which will decide who survives and who does not …given the narrative of today’s world the question arises, how will we survive this decade in particular as a nation?
Mahatma Gandhi takes the cake in inspirational value and MJ Akbar too has been analysing Gandhi ad infinitum. His book “Gandhi: A Life in Three Campaigns” was released recently and at the end of his conversation with GCCI president, Shrinivas Dempo, he quipped that we should buy his book even if we may not read it, just to keep the writing of books alive and kicking. Or some such thing. Purchasing power is down even when it comes to books you may want to read.
The topic of conversation this time was “India’s Changing Dynamics in the World” and just to put it in a nutshell, MJ Akbar is clearly an admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (but of course, being a spokesperson for BJP’s politics of Hinduism first and presumably also Hindus first). One gets the impression that Hinduism’s resurgence is just something which will eventually sought itself out if “vested interests” lunatics and fanatics don’t fan the fires of communal politics!
After all India is still seeking to be on par with the developed countries of the first world. From the 10th largest economy it has jumped to the third spot and as someone put it in a synopsis “being one to the youngest nations at an average age of 28 years, India is on the threshold of further enhancing its stature in the world.” The world is watching us too and frankly nobody wants India to be another China, or does it? Do we want to be another China?
MJ Akbar of course has seen a lot of the sub-continent’s history unfold as the editor of several notable publications, seen and experienced many things real and unreal up close. He traced the history of modern India since Partition to present times with the BJP government on the saddle, and how this is the first time the world is looking at India with new eyes – given Prime Minister Modi’s visionary diplomacy. And it is not just about the rest taking to Yoga and Ayurveda like never before, there is also India’s history long before the Muslim invasions and European colonialism.
AND of course role Mahatma Gandhi paid in liberating the people of India not just from colonial rule but also from fear, MJ Akbar said, “Gandhi liberated India from fear” A far more important idea given the context of centuries of oppression by foreign invasions…so on the balance sheet of history India is now ready to fly to good places soon. In fact, MJ Akbar has two books devoted to Mahatma Gandhi and how he strongly endorsed inclusion rather than exclusion in India.
For example, see our neighbour Pakistan, we don’t want to be like them, do we? Where are they today after subscribing to Jinnah’s idea of being an exclusively Muslim nation officially? India is changing but it not changing to be like Pakistan surely?
MJ Akbar said the epoch or age of empire has collapsed world-wide and nothing rises like the sun anew. India is rising like that from the debris of empire politics of the past, today it is the will of the people which must count surely? Commenting that he is a commentator and not a prophet three things we must realize: You cannot be modern without freedom; you cannot be modern if you are not free to practice your religion; you cannot be modern without gender emancipation; and modernity does demand freedom from poverty. What is our vision of the future? Gandhi’s vision or Lenin’s vision? Lenin’s vision is not sustainable – study world history! All this and much more.
POST-conversation there were some interesting questions and answers with one Mac Vaz (Goan feni promoter and keen niz Goenkar) asking if India will continue to be the India of “Amar, Akbar & Anthony” living in prosperous harmony? Wait and see, quipped MJ Akbar, have faith that good things emerge from upheavals in thinking as we outgrow the old in favour of a new “co-operative nationalism!”
Co-operative nationalism means one should never be aggressive, egoistic, for self-interest only…but how about being vibrant for peace, without surrendering to expansionism or terrorism, “We don’t have an offense ministry, only a defence ministry!” India or Bharat will survive what’s happening in a global perspective, in a world fraught with one crisis after another…politically, economically, socially. This is to say it was a very thought-provoking conversation with agent provocateur being GCCI president Shrinivas Dempo.


AT THE ORCHID AWARDS: Empowering women for several years now…(l to r)Niharika Colleen, Dr Aparna Pradhan, Anita Pereira , Siya Shaikh, Asha Arondekar, Sulakshana Sawant, Soyara Mohite, Maadhurya Morajkar, Mehak Navelkar, Isabel Vaz, Gauree Malkarnekar and others. ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ concept was beautifully showcased in the Kunbi walk by nine mothers and daughters…this catwalk thrilled the gathering!

AFTER it was over there was the usual rush for photo ops and I noticed many of the women achievers of the GCCI had turned up, there was Asha Arondekar, one of Goa’s power women, her 11th Orchid Award for Women Achievers of Goa 2024 was a splendid event which took place on January 23, 2024 at the Panaji Convention Centre. It was a grand celebration of women and guest of honor was Sulakshana Sawant (she’s a teacher and not surprisingly she summed up this year’s women achievers most effectively in her short brief at the event) and Ranjita Pai, chairperson of the Women’s Commission.
This year’s Orchid award winners were Isabel Vas (Education), Dr Aparna Pradhan (Art & Culture), Mehak Navelkar (Sports), Ankita Pereira (Social Work), Gauree Malkarnekar (Journalism) , Soyara Mohite (Business), Siya Shaikh (who has her Gowomania which aids, empowers and awards women entrepreneurs), Maadhurya Morajkar (girl child prodigy). It was a well-sponsored and well-attended evening of many parts. Never have women had it so good and they deserve it too! Goa’s particularly a great place to be a woman in search of a future because of its liberal outlook.
After the awards were given away with much razzmatazz fanfare, there was some entertainment of the finer kind – a rather unique fashion show, the Kunbi Walk, featuring nine young and nine not-so-young mothers and daughters attired to show off the magnificent Kunbi cottons of Goa. Everyone had a gala time which concluded with a most generous dinner prepared by Chanekar Caterers (no better caterers if I may say so). But this is to say take a bow Asha Arondekar, you are the woman of many parts and still find the time to give back to women!


Smart City Mission CEO Sanjit Rodrigues …explaining it all to media people on January 18; he said it’s not just promises, promises, a new smart city Panaji will be unveiled by end-May, 2024. Until then Ponjekars will have to be patient and cautious while stepping out!

TO move on to another topic I’d gone for the impeccable presentation made by CEO Sanjit Rodrigues of Panaji Smart City Mission at the Corporation of the City of Panaji hall on Thursday, January 18, 2024 and I actually came away convinced that if anyone can sort out the absolutely unforgivable roadworks mess currently torturing Ponjekars, Sanjit Rodrigues can. Sanjit has promised to salvage the situation by end-May, later this year, yes, that is 2024.
His memorable line is, “May 31, 2024 is my deadline for finishing all public works!” It was a very refreshing presentation as he explained to media people how Panaji roads are being sorted out section by section. We have always known Sanjit to be a hardworking, upfront and forthcoming with information and I am not at all surprised he doesn’t like the allegations of corruption being pinned on him.
In fact, to a side query after his presentation on the exact status of the projects going on under the Smart City Mission he quipped that if the government thinks he is corrupt they should run an audit on him, the CCP should appoint an auditor to find out who is corrupt and who is not! Of course he resents the accusation when he has barely stepped in to sort out the Panaji Smart Cities Mission mess which so many have and complaining about bitterly, just because citizens are really suffering the hardships of stepping out of their homes. Who is responsible for the mess in the first place?
Panaji MLA Babush Monserrate has been blaming one IPSCDL’s Swayandipta Pal Chaudhari who was appointed on July 15, 2019 to overseer the works on a grand salary but who is now out of the picture or so we believe, perhaps an enquiry is going on against this gentleman IAS officer who got a salary of Rs72,600 but reaped something like Rs2.05 lakh…or so we hear.
Capital city is really a death trap here, there and everywhere and frankly I don’t know how the forthcoming Carnaval and Shigmo will take place. The only road everybody wants to get anywhere fast (ironically) is the main Campal promenade road from Dona Paula Circle to Miramar beach and so on to the ferry wharf and out of Panaji – the pressure on this road is much that morning and evenings it’s like you may never get home. It’s the VIP road so it’s the most decently maintained.
The rest of Panaji, the less said the better. But this time Panaji Smart Cities Mission CEO Sanjit Rodrigues says some very heavy-duty sewerage piping is being laid and that is why it is taking so much time, because of the many considerations like everything is going underground and remember Panaji is a city more or less at sea-level – some very careful engineering skills have to be called upon!
Well, thank you Sanjit, I hope I’m alive by May-end to see a new Panaji bright and safe for all to use. All inner roads a dream come true and the St Inez Creek restored to its old glorious status of fresh flowing water and all encroachers removed. I asked about the creek because I fear they might tuck it away altogether into one of these huge mega drainpipes so that Ponjekars don’t have to look at what the creek has become anymore – that’s what they’re doing in other smart cities, I’m told. It’s like if we can’t sought out the real problem, we’ll be happy to hide it all in a monster black pipe and never mind what may happen to that pipe here and there…imagine capital smart city Panaji then.
ON that note it’s avjo, selamat datang, poiteverem, au revoir, arrivedecci, hasta la vista and vachun yeta here for now.

—Mme Butterfly

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