Politicians on the run?
By Frederick Noronha
Finally, their game is up. After years of conning the
citizen, the politician is finally on the run. They can’t go
on at it for long more. It’s protest after protest, in
village after village. People all over Goa are demanding
better levels of governance, and policies which don’t simply
sellout public assets for private gain of a few.
Right? Do you go along with this argument?
Sorry to disappoint, but this couldn’t be further from the
truth. Like the proverbial cat, our politicians have nine —
and probably more — lives. They’ve faced many a challenge in
the past, but continue to live on undeterred nonetheless.
We have about the most unrepresentative and uncaring of
political representatives. Yet some of them have survived
from the ‘eighties. Some even since the ‘seventies. Others
have dominated the political discourse since the ‘nineties.
Those who don’t win elections can, of course, be accommodated
in various red-lit cars or corporations and commissions,
subverting the idea of a people’s mandate. Even the leaders
of the Opposition have enough of a stake in the system, not
to rock the boat too hard — in a way that threatens the big
players — and to wait in the wings for a return to centre-stage.
There are three reasons why the citizen of this state are
their own worst enemies.
First is our unwillingness to tackle our own problem areas.
Take what happened at Moira the other day. Politicians pit
voter against voter, and whisk away a lady-campaigner to a
police station. There she is kept safely away from a gram
sabha without even being arrested! To add insult to injury,
she was apparently taken there for her own ‘safety’.
Not that Venita Coelho’s case reflects a new trend.
Politicians understand grassroots sociology better than any
In other campaigns, middle-class campaigners seem oblivious
to how class, communal and sometimes caste divides are
skillfully manipulated. Or, if they are aware, they’re unable
to do anything about it.
The poor have reason to feel suspicious. Fact is that Goa has
long been a stratified, hierarchical society. In parts of
Goa, caste is a big concern; with the current communal
juggernaut, this is somehow kept under wraps. In villages
where Catholics hold an economic (or numerical) edge, the
resentment is also visible. So, it is easy to portray
protesters as being ‘anti-development’ and ‘anti-people’.
In village after village, attempts to build a more concerned
citizenry has run into roadblocks that stem from suspicion.
Given the distrust among different groups of the populace,
it’s enough to use this to target one group with another.
Added to this, the gap in reporting citizen’s concerns,
between the vernacular and the English media, also aggravates
the situation. Because these issues get reported mainly on
one side, the other tends to be out of sync or totally
unaware about the issues concerned. It’s easy to create
doubts about motives in such case.
Secondly: a few bribes and a few blandishments always work.
No, it’s not just the poor who fall for liquor and saris at
election-time. The greed of the rich, and the middle-classes,
is only that much more acute. If the poor fall for small
bribes, the bigger guns need larger ones.
Politicians know that (almost) everyone comes with a price.
It could range from government jobs for sons and daughters,
to useful business contracts, granting questionable
permissions to big industrial empires, and more.
Isn’t it ironical that the very same quarters who today cry
about the way in which Goa has been pillaged, have themselves
played a key role in ideologically supporting every
dispensation that has come about to rule Goa?
Did you notice how elites are quick to change alliances, to
any which wind that blows? Recently, one was surprised to see
the way in which arch-conservatives, and those railing
against migration into Goa, were quick to proclaim their
loyalties to a winning Barrack Obama. Why is it that
conservatives back home suddenly become progressives in their
* * *
Our ruling elites are a cynical lot. Opportunism is bad
enough. But when combined with selfishness, it gets only that
much more terrible.
Goa luck is that we have a class of politicians who change
parties like they change clothes. For whom, ideology means
nothing other than a tool with which to access the spoils of
power. People who believe more in issues of caste and
community — or creating hate — than a consistent logic that
could make ours a better region to live in. The take-over of
dissent space is a matter we need to be concerned about too.
Goa’s main concerns have been built by politicians who
believe in polarising people. Thus escaping the need to take
on more concrete matters. In the 1960s, it was merger. In the
1980s, up came language.
Today we have religion and the politics of religion at
center-space. We only realise, as we go along, that all such
matters rake up emotions but don’t necessarily take us one
inch closer to solving much more pressing matters.
But why blame politicians alone? Goa’s permanent government
has weathered change across the centuries. They outlived
rulers and rajahs, colonisers and conquistadors, and parties
of every single hue that ruled us since the first elections
in 1963. They’ve taken care of their interest well enough, so
as to barter off the assets of Goa, invite new conquerors
(sometimes it’s 1510 repeated all over again), and make sure
that they’ve prospered over the heads of everyone else.
While taking care of themselves, they’ve been able to
compromise in a way that leaves a scar on Goa. Bhatkars along
the coastal belt now offer token criticism about the concrete
jungles they have themselves allowed where coconut trees once
ruled. So what if we sell Goan soil at a few rupees a kilo?
What if village water has to be sold at paisas? Someone,
somewhere is after all making a fast buck.
If so many people feel so strongly about the large-scale
transfer of land in Goa to speculative sharks, how is it that
land deals keep taking place? Some of us have a stake in
destroying what we claim to love.
As a society, Goa singularly lacks a sense of enlightened
self-interest. We lack the kind of politicians who would put
their foot down in asserting Goa’s long term developmental
interests. When two aircrafts scrape each other at Dabolim,
it becomes headline news. We blame one another, but nobody
asks why Goa’s airport has to have all its flights so badly
bunched up in the afternoons.
* * *
Some politicians gain votes blatantly by dividing people;
today on grounds of communalism, earlier on caste. Others
simply play on ethnicity and build vote-banks who have little
or no stake in how Goa shapes up in the future.
The problem with Goa is not that we have a two-party setup
which dominates local politics, but that these two parties
are so much like one another. Superficial, pro-lobby and
willing to sell their very voter down the Mandovi river. This
of course is not to suggest that the smaller parties are any
better, willing as they are to go with any bigger
dispensation in power, and wedded to the politics of
opportunism once they have even a single legislator elected.
But it’s the third reason why our discredited politicians
will get another lease of life: their manipulation skills are
second to none.
Not only are we easily divided, and, in some cases, easily
purchasable, but we are easily fooled too. Campaign groups
are sprouting like mushrooms in the monsoons. How many of
these are meant to primarily play a political game, and help
one or the other politician discredit some rival?
Today, it’s easy to blame an Aires Rodrigues for a
campaign-fiasco. But who were the politicians behind him,
echoing every allegation and raising the tempo? Everyone
seems to be conveniently forgetting that.
In Goa, old dogs do learn new tricks. Unless the citizen sees
through these, the voice being raised by the citizen is
likely to come to nought.
We need to recognise how Goa has been ruled for centuries by
dividing its people. And every generation finds its own way
to hoodwink those being continually taken for a ride. Till we
wake up to that reality, history will surely repeat itself.
Published earlier in Herald, Goa