24 Jul 2022  |   05:40am IST

Is Nothing Sacred?

In the past few days of assembly sessions, our political cadre’s capacity for trying to fool the public was on full display

Not even God is spared by the deeply disgraceful politicians of Goa, in their ongoing orgy of party-hopping and broken promises. There seem to be no limits to their shamelessness, sinking ever-lower with each passing week. Lies are piled up on more lies, with the supreme vulgarity of crooks who think they will get away it. This is a national failing – witness the shockingly anti-democratic farce across the border in Maharashtra – but now we’re really seeing the worst of it in India’s smallest state.

It was only six months ago on January 22 that the Congress paraded would-be MLAs to the Masjid-e Hamza in Betim, the Fulancho Khuris shrine at Bambolim, and Panjim’s Mahalaxmi temple – three revered sites that are deeply venerated by all Goans. At each stop, they swore that “once elected, we will stay with Congress and work for betterment of the people for the next five years, irrespective of offers made by the opposition. We will leave Congress at no cost.”

Knowing what we do, it’s impossible to look at the photos from that day without feeling disgusted. Those promises meant nothing. Just last weekend, five of these characters had to be flown off to Chennai, because they were perceived to be on the verge of switching sides, and that drama came after party leaders had already sacked Michael Lobo as Leader of the Opposition, and also removed Digambar Kamat from the Congress Working Committee. 

It is interesting to revisit Kamat’s comments during that oath-taking farce: “We have tried to remove any doubts in the mind of the public. Some politicians are saying there is no point in electing Congress MLAs as they will go to other parties. These are the same politicians who are poaching our MLAs. If a son leaves his parents, the son and parents are both responsible. Parties who are poaching our MLAs are also responsible. We have to be more aggressive towards politicians who are offering money to our people to buy them. Goans are not for sale.”

Leaving aside the obvious ironies, the 68-year-old veteran from Margao has a point about culpability. The party that has ruled Goa since 2012 is forcefully against religious conversions – earlier this month Pramod Sawant claimed it’s one of his government’s achievements in its first 100 days – but simultaneously devotes huge amounts of time, energy and money to converting opposition politicians to the BJP. What is more, there are many other dubious conversions underway: black money into white via the gambling mafia, dead men becoming alive to get liquor licenses, and illegal constructions regularized via rampant subversion of the rule of law.

In the past few days of assembly sessions, our political cadre’s capacity for trying to fool the public was on full display. One egregious example centred on the grotesque mansion that has been constructed right next to the magnificent 17th century St. Cajetan Church in Old Goa, which drew such sustained protests last year – especially in the run up to the elections – that every politician from every party swore that it would be demolished as soon as possible.

The facts of this case are brilliantly explained by 91-year-old Edgar Ribeiro, the former chief town planner of India (who continues to serve his country with great distinction, just like his older brother, the heroic Julio Ribeiro) in his statement last July: “Due to my age, I have not been able to [fully] participate in the spirited fight by the citizens of Goa against this grave irregularity within the ASI-protected area, but it’s a clear case of misinformation, and misinterpretation, and contrary to national and state laws. This construction is totally illegal, against India’s mandate for protection of archaeological and other heritage sites, and a fit case for demolition and fixing responsibility on all the officials and committees who have not done their homework.”

That kind of clarity and moral purpose was absent in the legislative assembly last week. Instead, as the bright young architect Tahir Noronha (the 27-year-old is heading to the University of Michigan for a Masters in Urban Planning later this year) has detailed in an excellent fact-checking, the state leadership fell over themselves to issue false and misleading pronouncements. 

In this way, the chief minister said the subject is sub-judice, but “several state departments had issued permission to this project, and later, after being informed of discrepancies, have investigated and withdrawn their permission. This is not sub-judice.” Then, “Vishwajit Rane said the TCP only gave permission after the National Monument Authority did. This is also untrue. We have seen the file (under RTI) and no Central Govt department gave permission before the TCP. In fact, in a written reply to MLA Cruz Silva, the TCP portrayed an ASI letter from 2020 as the NMA permission. But ASI & NMA are different departments, they do similar work like GSIDC & PWD but ASI looks at the protected area, and NMA is a group of architects who regulate construction in the surroundings of the ASI sites.”

Finally, says Noronha, “several MLAs said the illegal construction falls in the buffer zone, at a distance of less than 300m from the ASI monument. But from as far back as 1st June 1968, the plot has been statutorily listed as the protected area of the ‘Largo of St Cajetan and connected ruins’. The buffer-zones, which were only introduced when the ASI Act was amended in 2011, start from the edge of the protected areas. These are cold hard facts which cannot be disputed.” 

What can ordinary citizens do when the government goes rogue? The stellar heritage activist and history professor Prajal Sakhardande told me that “these snakes in the grass have lied to God, so lying to us is no big deal. They are selling Goa, and driving us to the point of no return, and the people are also to blame for repeatedly electing these same vermin over and over who sell their vote for a few crumbs.”

Sakhardande says “in 2006, we staged the Goa Bachao Abhiyan that saved our state from the draconian regional plan 2011. Now we need yet another Abhiyan to save us from these politicians. It's a hopeless situation, yet the silver lining can come about if we unite. We are Goans first, and Goenkarponn is our religion, and with this singular thought in mind let us unite to pull down the curtain on these powers that are destroying our beautiful mother Goa.”

(Vivek Menezes is a writer and photographer and 

co-founder and co-curator of the Goa Arts +

 Literature Festival)


Iddhar Udhar