Red, white and black balloons bobbed over the event, bringing a hint of carnival hoopla to the political drive. The balloons were carried around on strings by most of the few hundred in the picturesque park near the heart of Panjim, the capital of Goa. Many of them had come in groups, small and large, from distant corners of one of India’s smallest states.
The agenda was to pool the issues they face in their hamlets in different corners of the state and present them to parties and candidates in the upcoming Assembly elections. The idea: to take control of the issues that might decide the outcome of the polls. The fact that the event was organised on the afternoon of Republic Day highlighted the way in which 'we, the people' were trying to retain the initiative on what issues were important.
Rather than respond as passive recipients to whatever political parties chose to present in their respective manifestos — and candidates in their campaign speeches — people from the grassroots will present their agenda to the politicians. All the candidates will be asked to give their responses on each of those issues by 2 February, the day campaigning is to close for the Goa Assembly elections.
On their part, many of the parties have offered freebies in their manifestos — desperately trying to excite an obviously cynical and disappointed electorate. The ruling BJP, for example, has promised to increase the dole for marriageable women and non-working young men respectively. The Congress has promised five litres of free petrol to each student. A discussion in a political science class elicits a debate. One student says he would grab such an offer. Another responds that it is just a bribe.
It is, and the parties as well as the voters know it. Responding to these sops in various manifestos, Sabina Martins, convenor of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, observed that 'politics has become a business'.
A slew of issues
This is the reason the people sought to take the initiative on Republic Day. A number of voluntary groups, including the Abhiyan and the Goa Foundation, organised the event in the park. Of course, several organisers and many of those who attended are from elite backgrounds. But they brought together a number of activist groups that would obviously have been marginalised and isolated were it not for the umbrella the event provided.
There was, for example, a leader of those involved in recycling, activists for the differently-abled, a group (Arz) helping to draw women out of prostitution and rehabilitating them, and a group from a village where people have lain on the roads to force a bypass for trucks since a truck killed a mother and daughter. A group from another village is protesting a government order that equates coconut palms with grass — so that a thousand trees could be chopped on the site of a proposed beer factory in their village. Those opposing that project are also upset that the project proposes to draw a vast amount of water from a river that is already almost dry.
Several other activists highlighted particular projects such as an airport, a golf course and a five-star hotel which local residents say will seize most of their community’s land and damage their environment.
The event in the park was a part of the 'Goenchi Mati (Goan soil) movement'. It highlighted the extent to which citizens’ activism has become a key part of Goan culture. Parag Parobo of Goa University, who has written a book on the early phase of Goa’s politics, noted that such activism began in the 1990s, when tourism got a huge fillip. Even before that, he noted, Indira Gandhi had brought the Commonwealth Summit to Goa and sought to promote the place as an international destination in the 1980s. The consciousness and assertion of Goan identity grew in tandem.
Goa’s high standard of education has no doubt contributed to activism becoming so salient, but that would only be a starting point.
It is likely that the tradition of autonomous Communidads, through which village communities owned property collectively, and so made decisions in concert, may have contributed to the current strength of grassroots political activism in the state. Historian Prajal Sakhardande, one of the movement’s prime activists, notes that the tradition of collective ownership predated the term communidad, which the Portuguese brought when they began their conquests of parts of Goa from 1510.
The strong consciousness of Goan identity and heritage was probably strengthened after the early movement to integrate Goa into Maharashtra was defeated in a referendum in 1967, soon after the Portuguese ceded Goa to India. Parobo notes that the Christian-dominated Salcete region south of Panjim was crucial to the outcome of that referendum — which turned Goa into a Union Territory.
Not satisfied that Goa now has the full status of a state, Sakhardande even wants a special status for Goa. Consciousness of special identity is strong, even though he acknowledges that many of the communities — such as Kunbis and fisherfolk — are common to the regions north and south of Goa.
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 11:41 AM