Catholics in Goa capital Panaji attending an open-air Mass on the occasion of the Marian feast of the Assumption in this file photo. Many in the former Portuguese enclave see their political clout diminishing. (Photo by Bosco Eremita)
Catholics in Goa are poised to see their once decisive political edge plummet next month when the former Portuguese colony goes to polls amid increasing pro-Hindu propaganda and political chaos.Some 250 candidates are in the fray for the Feb. 4 election to choose just 40 legislative members who will run the tiny state of 1.8 million people for the next five years.
The election will see a largely three-pronged fight with the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its main rival, the Indian National Congress and the new-comer, Aam Admi Party (Common Man's Party).
Choices for the Catholic voter has been compounded by the fact multiple Catholics are members of all three parties which will lead to the division of the Catholic vote, said Francisco Colaco, a cardiologist.The ineffectiveness of both the Indian National Congress and the BJP when they were in power in the past has led to the disillusionment of Catholic loyalists as well as lower-caste Hindus leading them to switch sides to the Aam Admi Party and a host of new groups, including independents. Moreover, a significant number of Catholics were dropped from the voters list after the Election Commission said that over 27,000 Goans, overwhelmingly Catholics, would be disenfranchised because they held Portuguese passports."We are going through hard times. We Catholics are few and getting fewer by the day. Sad to say, we are unwanted here unless we are ready to live as second-class citizens under the yoke of Hindu hegemony," Colaco said.The crisis is evident as some influential Catholics associated with the BJP describe themselves as "Hindu-Catholic" giving primacy to the cultural ideologies of their party."With the presence of several new candidates and parties in fray, the Catholic vote is slowly losing its decisive edge. With several options now available, the Indian National Congress, which enjoyed Catholic support, has lost its privileged position. But the Catholics are also losing the power to shape their destiny," Colaco said.
But for the ruling BJP, the elections will not to be an easy win either. Its two prime supporters, including the powerful umbrella Hindu group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that propagates turning secular India into a Hindu theocracy, have disowned the party.
The RSS has accused the BJP, which won won 21 of 40 seats in 2012, of "minority appeasement" by not implementing some educational polices because of Catholic opposition.
However, the official church came out on Jan. 20 with election guidelines that are widely seen as criticizing the BJP's polices and programs as anti-poor and discriminative.The guidelines, from archdiocesan Council of Social Justice and Peace, without naming any party, drew attention to the serious threat to the environment due to indiscriminate development.It also made a veiled attack on the BJP government in New Delhi. The BJP federal government, with their "emphasis on digital and cashless payments involving smart phones, ATM cards and payment apps as the basic requirement for every citizen to avail themselves of government benefits and purchases is worrisome," it said.
It added that people should rise above religion, caste, creed and other selfish considerations and vote for upright, knowledgeable, principled and sincere leaders.