The last month has been tough on the councillors of Margao Municipal Council (MMC) and it appears their inaction has set in motion a citizens’ movement, which could result in them losing their seats in the upcoming municipal elections.
At the forefront of this newfound agitation and the man behind all their reasons for discomfort, is advocate Rajeev Gomes, the president of the South Goa Advocates’ Association who wants to bring about a change in how the municipality is managed.
Gomes and a large group of anguished residents have decided to focus on grassroots democracy and want greater accountability from the 20-odd councillors that run the town. MPs, MLAs are used to these pressure situations, but these councillors chose a quiet exit when confronted by these citizens after their last council meeting.
“I have been living in Aquem for the last 34 years and earlier I was too preoccupied with my work and have never joined politics in the past. I am not contesting this election but there will be a change from now onwards,” said Gomes.
Stating that he had not given any thought to contesting the upcoming municipal elections at this stage, he did not rule out the possibility.
“At this given time I am not contesting the elections, but I am here not for politics, but for issues and we have around 200 volunteers now who interact twice a week and will activity monitor how the municipality functions,” said Gomes.
Gomes who was actively involved in student elections right from his Kare Law College days and RMS Higher Secondary College, Margao is a known personality in Margao. The criminal lawyer who worked under Anacleto Viegas and Alban Viegas from 1997 for two years, immediately after graduation, has since tried over 950 cases and has promised to use the weapon of law as he takes on the city fathers.
“I am a voter and I have a fundamental right to ask these questions. If I can lead by example and others follow then that is great and any help in cleansing the corrupt council is welcome,” added Gomes.
It is clear that Gomes has marked Margao as the area of focus given his recent public criticisms of the Margao MLA, but he reiterates that he is not targeting anyone in view of elections nor does he want to stand on a platform and tell anyone who to vote for.
“I want those contesting elections to put it in their manifesto that they will hold four meetings with their respective ward members and will actively support such people,” said Gomes
When asked who are the ‘we and our’ he keeps referring to and if he was harbouring ambition to float a political party or an NGO, Gomes stated that as of now he was just working with like-minded residents of Margao.
Chinchinim-born Gomes has recognized that the times were changing and that elected representatives cannot get away with taking the people for granted. When it was pointed out that his followers might find similarities with the Aam Aadmi Party that won the Delhi elections, he admitted that his ideas do concur with their philosophy but maintained that he was fighting the councillors as a citizen.
“Why can’t the traffic problems be solved? Why can’t the garbage problems be solved?” Gomes asked. He pointed out how enraged residents were when they found out that the councillors had asked the Chief Officer to use the Rs 3 crore grant for the signature project to re-build drains and gutters and it was only after some opposition that the funds have been redirected for the multi-level pay-parking project.
Gomes pointed out that those councillors who were perceived as corrupt need to be replaced and that there was a need to change the mentality among the councillors and this could only be brought about if the councillors are willing to act as ‘public servants’ and not act as if they were superior to the citizens.
“We are here to monitor how the council uses the tax payers’ funds allocated to them in a time-bound fashion and we want greater transparency,” added Gomes, pointing out that the CO who they have been supporting has agreed to upload the minutes of the council meetings on its website.