The life and times of Tai & the party she nurtured
Circa March 9, 2012: There she sat on the front row of dignitaries at the swearing in of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, her frail tiny frame concealed in a sea of people and VIPs. She certainly wasn’t the star of the day, almost having faded into oblivion before making what turned out be the last plunge at activism/politics – the language agitation and the fight to keep education grants away from English medium schools, a movement Herald has vehemently opposed as it went against the grain of inclusion that Goa is meant to be. Noticing this Herald writer near the front rows, Mrs Kakodkar signalled that she wanted to speak. And then she said, “I have never been a favourite of your paper and I do not agree with your stand on several issues, but I love the way your paper argues and speak ups and debates strongly. This keeps democracy alive and for that I read you.”
Incidentally, this was the first meeting with her and very unfortunately, turned out to be the last because further conversations did not happen. But what stood out, as it did during her three decades of active political life is her firm stand on issues, often mistaken for rigidity, coupled with the grace and flexibility to accept and hear alternate thought.
Her passing also marks the fall of another pillar who lived in an era where political acrimony never offset social graces. Politics was still fought in a manner hard and bitter, power was still sought, the political field was still a minefield and yet, principles dictated politics. And principles outshone pelf. And in doing so, both her principles and her politics worked. For her, for her party and for a Goa which believed in regionalism as the mantra for self protection, preservation and growth.
To many though MGP did not include all. For large chunks of Salcete, MGP was the “other” and to many in the MGP, Salcete was the land across the proverbial mountain of discomfort and distrust. But it took a Shashikala Kakodkar to bridge that or even attempt to bridge that. Before her and after her moving out of active politics, there is no one in the MGP who has managed to, or even attempted to win the hearts of Xaxtikars. (See report on the bottom of this page). This journey started in 1973 when the Benaulim seat fell vacant after the death of the UGP MLA. This is when Shashikala Kakodkar decided that MGP would contest Benaulim and asked Dr Wilfred Mesquita, a minority leader (current BJP Vice President) to prepare the ground. Her message to him was clear, “I’m going to Benaulim not to win but to understand the feeling of the people of Salcete”. MGP narrowly won that seat in the normal round of counting, however, the victory of their candidate Menino Jesus Ferrao, popularly known as Luta Ferrao was challenged by Wilfred D’Souza. The EC then ordered the counting of votes of those whose votes were illegally cast before they arrived at the booth, and were then allowed to cast their votes separately, which were kept in sealed envelopes. When this was done, Dr D’Souza was finally declared the winner.
As she kept the legacy of MGP alive, during her clear run as Chief Minister from 1973 to 1979 after the death of her father Dayanand Bandodkar, she also had her frailties. She faced toppling games and also made, what many call the cardinal mistake of merging MGP with the Congress (I). Though she extracted herself from this, the act led to a cascading effect after which MGP was never the same.
In 1977 Advocate Shankar Lad and Dayanand Narvekar defected from “Tai”, as Shashikala was lovingly called till her last day, and along with a group consisting of Willy D’Souza (Congress U) and then new Janata Party leaders, Jack Sequiera, Ferdinho Rebello and Mhadav Bir attempted to form a government. But look at the politics of principle in those days, A Janata Party government in Delhi led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai refused saying that there should be no government formed by defections. The Assembly was dissolved, but Morarji Desai did not allow his own party’s government from being formed in Goa.
Then came the era, post her Chief Ministerial tenure, when Shashikala Kakodkar attempted to and then merged MGP with the Congress (I) much against the wishes of her party leaders like Ramakant Khalap and M S Prabhu. Tai’s justification was that she wanted a national platform. Three years later in the mid eighties, Tai finally listened to her former party colleagues and returned to the MGP fold but not quite. There were two factions MGP (Shashikala) and MGP (Mukund Shinkre). A historic merger meeting was organised by MGP stalwarts like JJ Rodrigues, Shankar Bandekar and Dr Wilfred Mesquita, but talks finally broke down over the formation of the election committee for the next elections. An upset Shashikala then formed the Bhausaheb Bandodkar Gomantak party (BBGP) which got routed in the ensuing elections. BBGP later merged into the MGP marking her return to her home party.
But then again she returned to power through the defection route when Churchill Alemao toppled the Pratapsingh Rane government, became CM briefly and then gave way for Luis Proto Barbosa to be CM under a front called PDF led by the Goa People’s Party of Mr Barbosa with MGP as a partner in government. It is during this tenure, when Shashikala Kakokdkar became Education Minister, that the no English education policy was implemented, which continues to be a major divisive ground among groups in Goa. It was her inspiration which led to the formation of the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch, which opposed the Digambar Kamat government’s decision to give grants to English schools at the primary level, which was followed by the next BJP government leading to the current political war with the BJP. But you cannot undermine her rigidity on principles even at her age and with failing health as she took to the streets for the cause. (Herald has consistently and clearly supported parents who have opposed the BBSM stating that the freedom of choice to parents to choose the medium of Instruction for their children should be given)
But beyond education, the magnificent Kala Academy and the Kadamba transport hub is her contribution to Goa. Her critics say that her government was dominated by the transport lobby and the rise to prominence of Gomantak Maratha Samaj caste members as they got government postings. She also faced two major agitations, one by traditional fishermen, against the policy of promoting mechanised fishing which ate into their businesses and the very successful student’s agitation demanding a 50% bus fare concession for all bona fide students. The latter was largely successful.
But Tai was beyond report cards. Her nest was Goa and she ruled with the beliefs of that nest and fought till her very last to protect those beliefs and principles. Her party still remains and it’s called the same, but with her departure, even the notional comfort to many of its oldest supporters, of the MGP being Bhausaheb’s party, will be gone. And that will sadden many, as much as her death will.