Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, A.K. Antony and others protest on July 11, accusing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of engineering defections of their party members in the states of Goa and Karnataka. (IANS photo)
There was outrage in Goa when 10 legislators of this former Portuguese colony, eight of them Catholics, abandoned their Congress party on July 10 to join the ruling pro-Hindu BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party.) In reality, however, their action could weaken the party’s ideological moves and help the beach state continue with its religious coexistence.
The BJP came to power in Goa after the 2017 state elections, despite not winning a majority in the 40-member legislature. At that time social media exploded at the machinations involved in the BJP capturing power although it won only 13 seats; it was post-poll horse-trading and defections that helped it to power.
With the latest defections, BJP now enjoys a 27-seat majority and uppermost in the minds of its opponents was the horror of a BJP regime firmly in the saddle and the fear of it imposing anti-minority policies.
Although more than 65 percent of Goa’s 1.8 million people are Hindus, the BJP only attained power for the first time in 2000 … and that too was through the back door, by engineering defections. On that occasion it surprised many that a BJP government ruled over a state perceived for long as a Catholic bastion. Although Christians form only some 25 percent of the population, they are influential in political decisions.
Hindu policies ineffective
The history of BJP governments in Goa shows that they failed to impress hardliners or make any effective move against religious minorities, because the vast majority of Goan people, although Hindu, are secular-minded.
First, the BJP’s former chief minister Manohar Parrikar had to prove his mettle to the hardliners, so he produced a documentary on Goa’s struggle for freedom from the Portuguese, projecting Catholics in poor light. But the program caused a backlash and was withdrawn from schools.
The government was bent on supporting Hindu nationalist views and allowed Hindu groups to take over and run some schools, closed long before for low student rolls. These schools used Marathi, a preferred language of Hindu groups, as a medium of instruction, but most local people preferred English or the state’s Konkani languages, leading to their closure.
The revived Marathi medium schools, some 50 of them, were accused of spreading pro-Hindu ideology through education. But since no Catholic preferred Marathi and no Catholic child attended those schools, the move made no difference to the community.
Taxpayers’ money was spent on schools and documentaries aiming to promote Hindu nationalist ideas. Of greater concern to local people, however, were the burning of a makeshift Muslim prayer house and an unsuccessful attempt to burn a church, the first such cases in the state. Although communal statements have become louder since then, Goa so far has not witnessed any serious religion-linked violence but for a single incident in a Muslim settlement.
Perhaps the only instance when the BJP government sought to touch the core of Catholics was when it cancelled Good Friday as a public holiday in 2012. Soon after, however, it had to rescind the notification, following pressure from the Catholic legislators supporting the BJP-led government. It is evident therefore that hard-line communalism cannot survive in Goa.
Goa has had a varied history; Hindus, Buddhist, Muslims and Catholics have all ruled the state at different times. Barring a short spell of forced conversions during the Portuguese era, the state never experienced rabid communalism in any segment of society. This may be because its people all share a common Hindu ancestry. Admittedly, there were stray cases of desecration of crosses and attacks on church structures but although these may have had the backing of hardliners within the government, they were not front-line policies of the BJP government.
Political observers opine that the fallout of the perfidy by former Congress legislators is a huge negative for hard communalism, if we go by the sentiments expressed by BJP leaders as well as the rank and file.
Catholic influence on the rise
Vishwajeet Rane, a cabinet minister, pointed out that Catholics joining BJP would send a positive message to the country’s religious minorities. With eight Catholic legislators joining the BJP, the number of Catholic legislators in the BJP has increased to 15.
It is reasonable for BJP seniors to worry: with 15 Catholics out of 27 BJP legislators in the government, the Hindu clout will wane. Some also fear that the Catholics within BJP have the potential to constitute a separate entity within the party to dethrone the government and even form an all-Catholic government. This fear is, of course, far-fetched.
The food economy in Goa is well balanced. Hindus are happy that there is less competition from Catholics and Muslims for available fish and mutton, while the Catholics and Muslims are happy that the Hindus don’t exert too much pressure on banning beef, although they have become more vocal on this point in recent times. If the slaughter of cows, the Hindu holy animal, is banned along with beef, it is bound to recoil but in fact no cows are slaughtered, only bulls. It would then be a long struggle for the fanatics, who would reluctantly have to succumb to the whims of the minority’s taste buds.
Of course, there may be demonstrative signs of “conversion” of Catholic legislators, with some of them attending Hindu rituals, sponsoring festivity programs at temples and ostensibly showing their respect to Hindu deities. Perhaps hardline Hindus, even Catholics within the government, may project the Catholic legislators as “Hindu-Christian” but it will stop at that.
The socio-political peculiarities of Goa will restrain the current Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, a former member of the Hindu hardline RSS group, from leading the state toward the goal of a “Hindu nation”. On the contrary, there will be justifications offered to the RSS that these obnoxious permutations, which include admitting Catholics into government, are a patient requisite toward the long-term goal of a Hindu nation.
As of now, the BJP in Goa is reduced to a heady mix of intolerant and soft communalists, secularists and feni drinkers, relishing on beef and pork. And it will remain that way as long as this odd government lasts.
Bosco de Sousa Eremita is a journalist who researches the issues of immigration and changing demographics in Goa, his homeland. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.