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Welcome to the Cong's family republic of Goa

Welcome to the Cong's family republic of Goa

There is something extremely sinister about the Congress party's strategy for the March 3 Goa Assembly polls.

Panaji: There is something extremely simplistic and sinister about the Congress party's strategy for the March 3 Assembly polls. Simplistic, because, instead of sifting through its ranks and file for worthy candidates to contest March 3 polls, the Congress state leadership and the High command have simply made the list of candidates into an extension of brothers, daughters and sons of incumbent legislators. Sinister, because the decision of the Congress in Goa to go the 'family way' in a such a brazen, wholesale manner and in face of popular outrage, is a sign that nepotism is not an exception to the rule, but a rule in itself, when it comes to Goa.

Try and savour this if you can. The Congress has allotted a whopping 33 per cent of its ticket share in the 33 assembly seats it is contesting, to kith and kin of sitting MLAs. The Alemao family led by powerful cabinet ministers and patriarchs, Joaquim and Churchill have been granted another ticket this time round. Joaquim, formerly a listed goonda with the Goa police until the 1990s has been repeated as a candidate from the Cuncolim constituency. His brother Churchill, a former chief minister who was formerly booked under to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and detained under the National Security Act (NSA) has also been repeated in Navelim. And now Churchill’s daughter Valanka has now been given a Congress ticket to contest from the Benaulim constituency.

And there’s more to it. Joaquim’s son has been given the alliance partner, Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) ticket from Sanguem assembly segment, taking the Alemao family count to 4 tickets – 10 per cent -- in Goa’s 40 member state legislative assembly. Controversial education minister Atanasio Monserrate was allotted the St Cruz assembly ticket a couple of days after an Income Tax assessment report published in the media categorically said, that Monserrate had received a Rs 20 crore plus bribe from the real estate lobby for land conversions, when he was Town and Country Planning minister in 2007.

Monserrate’s wife Jennifer, a novice in assembly politics, was also endorsed to contest from the Taleigao constituency. Former chief minister Pratapsing Rane (Poriem) and his son Vishwajeet Rane (Valpoi) have also been allotted Congress tickets, along with home minister Ravi Naik (Ponda) and his son Ritesh (Marcaim). Finally, former transport minister Pandurang Madkaikar will contest from Cumbharjua, while his brother Dhaku will fight for the Priol assembly segment.

The ‘family first’ policy of the Congress has predictably triggered an exodus of rebels from the party, who are now gunning to contest against the official candidates in about nine out of the 33 constituencies being fought by the Congress; the other seven being contested by pre-poll alliance partner, the NCP.

Now, the ‘family’ formula may have worked well for the Barjatya clan over generations, whose Rajshri productions have enthralled audiences for generations with block buster ‘family oriented’ films like ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’, ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, etc. But apart from those Congressmen who have managed to garner tickets for themselves and their respective bloodlines, local office bearers of the party are not too gung ho about the ‘family first’ strategy.

When working president of the party’s Pradesh Committee Francisco Sardinha was asked to comment on the ticket distribution policy, he said: “The party has decided this considering various factors. I don’t agree with everything...”In subsequent interactions, Sardinha has repeatedly snapped at reporters when asked why the party had preferred the controversial dynasty route for the forthcoming polls.

“I have no comments to make,” Sardinha had said, asking the media to speak to the candidate screening committee boss and Rajya Sabha MP Oscar Fernandes to get the answer from the “horse’s mouth”. The ‘horse’ in Sardinha’s parlance, in this case Rajya Sabha Oscar Fernandes - the man who officially gave the final assent in the ticket allotment - has been evasive on the issue of chronic nepotism within the party.

"It is not that we have a given large number of tickets to families, we have decided on merit and now people of Goa will decide whether they have the merit,” Fernandes has said, leaving the ominous responsibility on the people to either accept or reject the Congress’s dynasty agenda. But the in-the-face dynasty agenda has raised the hackles of an aggressive civil society, which has been at logger heads with the Digambar Kamat led coalition government over the last five years, protesting against the government’s non-people friendly land use policy, failing law and order situation and its inability to curb illegal mining.

“The manner in which certain families are trying to usurp and monopolize political power in Goa is deplorable… The trend has been not to seek a mere ticket for themselves but a family pass to accommodate their family and friends.  Such rank dictatorial tendencies need to be checked or otherwise Goa will be at the mercy of a handful of families who will hold this state to ransom,” says activist lawyer Aires Rodrigues.

The preference to family has also rankled the Goan diaspora, which has been keeping a keen eye on Goa’s tryst with the March 3 elections. www.nizgoenkar.net , one of the top diaspora websites run by UK national of Goan origin Menino Fernandes has likened the ‘D’ of dynasty to the other ‘D’, an alphabet whose infamy has been a subject of popular imagination across India.  

“The letter ’D’ is often associated with Dawood Ibrahim, India’s fugitive don, hiding somewhere in Karachi. He, his family and associates control business empires in crime, fraud, forgery and outright war on our nation. The letter ‘D’ in the Goan context refers to the “Dynasties” ready to carve up Goa, as their own business empires,” Fernandes has said. The buzz against the ‘family first’ policy of the Congress is out on the street.

“So Goa is reduced to a democratic jagir now? To be ruled by four or five families only?” as Merlin Rodrigues from Agacaim assembly constituency, a bastion of the Congress for nearly two decades now. Noted social activist Medha Patkar has also condemned the Congress’s endorsement of family raj in Goa. “As you can see dynastical rule in increasing in India. There must be a cap of ‘one family one elected representative’. This is the only way we can control this dangerous trend,” said Medha Patkar, when questioned by civil society groups, during her visit to Goa last week.

The opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already announced that the Congress’s ‘family first’ policy would be one of its major poll planks in the run up to March 3, when the 10 lakh plus strong electorate goes to polls. “People know very well how the Congress High Command has been blackmailed by these dynasties in giving them multiple tickets for contesting the election... Ravi Naik, Pandurang Madkaikar, Atanasio Monserrate were all alone. Now all are fielding families. The Alemaos were a family, now they are a bigger family. Vishwajit Rane has blackmailed the Congress for his satellites. Which chief minister will be able to function under such a family Raj,” leader of opposition and former chief minister Manohar Parrikar said.

Parrikar however tried to shy off from queries about the BJP’s pre poll alliance with a regional party, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which is controlled by the two Dhavalikar brothers, Deepak and Sudin, both of whom are legislators in the outgoing assembly. “Both the Dhavalikar brothers are sitting MLAs, but the Congress has increased the scope manifold,” Parrikar said. However, polling day on March 3 will decide how the Goan electorate will respond to the Congress’s brazen attempts to peddle dynasty a la 10 Janpath style.
first published:February 22, 2012, 16:29 IST