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Radharao Gracias

No Hope for a regional political force

Arguably among Goa’s strongest votaries of regional politics, a politician who has always steered clear of national parties, link Radharao Gracias, tells Goa Streets he is disillusioned that no regional political party has made a mark in his three decades in politics to protect the state’s ‘unique identity’. In a free-wheeling interview with Streets Senior Correspondent Ashley do Rosario, the maverick lawyer-politician rues that two of Goa’s tallest Catholic leaders – Dr Jack de Sequeira and Dr Wilfred de Souza – lost the plot due to “their own obstinate arrogance”. He also slams Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar for the wavering performance of his 14-month-old government despite a decisive mandate. Excerpts:


AR: You’ve long been amongst the strongest protagonists of a regional political force for Goa. Why, according to you, Goa lacks such a political party? Doesn’t the blame lie on the shoulders of the leadership, including yourself?

RG: I agree we have failed. I have never claimed to be a leader who can draw the masses. I neither have the resources nor do I have the charisma to lead and build a strong regional party.

In India, regional parties are driven more by the persona of its leaders rather than ideology. The DMK in Tamil Nadu revolves around Karunanidhi and the AIADMK around J Jayalalitha. The NCP of Maharashtra has Sharad Pawar. Almost all the regional parties in India are driven by the charisma and leadership capabilities of a single politician.

Unfortunately, Goa hasn’t had a tall leader who stuck to building a regional party. Two of Goa’s tallest Catholic leaders, Dr Jack de Sequeira and Dr Wilfred de Souza, who were best positioned to fulfil this political need of a strong Goan regional party wasted it by their sheer arrogance. They were both good leaders but arrogant and never paid heed to inputs from others around them. They never listened to others. That’s why they lost the plot.

More recently, Churchill Alemao seemed to be emerging as a force around whom a regional party could have been built. But we have seen how he oscillated back and forth into the Congress.

AR: What about the UGDP? Is there hope for the future?

RG: I really don’t think so. A substantial number of outsiders (non-ethnic residents of Goa) have now settled here. Each passing year, the chances of building a strong regional party are getting dimmer because of the demographic changes effected by continuous large-scale migration. Unless something dramatic happens, some sort of revolution by Goans, there seems to be no hope for a regional political force.

Even the late Matanhy Saldanha, who throughout his career as a politician and activist was a die-hard votary of a regional party, was pragmatic enough to realise this situation. So, he threw in the towel and joined the BJP.

In the run-up to his joining the BJP, he had mentioned to me that now, we should change the  perspective of our fight from one for ‘protecting Goans’ to one for protecting the ‘people of Goa’. In fact, it was not Goans who earned him his victory from the Cortalim constituency but ‘people of Goa’ from the slums of migrant-dominated Sancoale. He got more than 60 per-cent of his votes from the Sancoale village.

As for the the UGDP, you know what the experience has been. Every time we got a few MLAs elected on our party’s ticket, they migrated to the national parties. Those of us who are left aren’t capable of taking the UGDP to any great heights. In my opinion, none of us possess the requisite charisma or the resources and we are all part-time politicians.I will be happy if some people come forward to take over the party and organise it into a major political force.

AR: Vijai Sardessai claims Goenkar, the organisation he floated, will metamorphose into a strong regional political force. Your comment?

RG: I don’t think so. Vijai has traditionally been a Congressman. He’s an independent today only because he could not secure the Congress ticket during the elections. I am sure he will be back in the Congress by the time the next elections are held. Like they did with his mentor, Churchill, the Congress will take him in with a higher position and greater importance in the party depending on how strong a political force he emerges.

AR: How do you rate the performance of Manohar Parrikar in his second coming?

RG: He has a majority with which he has no challenge from any quarters. The BJP was given this mandate because the people were fed up with the misrule of the Congress. But in this one year, there has been no perceptible change for the good. Parrikar has been affected by his IIT degree in metallurgy and has become only malleable and ductile. He is not sticking to what he had promised at the time of elections in March 2012.

AR: Can you quote concrete examples where the CM has fallen short of what he had promised at the time of the polls?

RG: There are so many issues where Parrikar has deviated from what he stood for before and during the elections. Take the case of the land scam in which land acquired and earmarked for parking space at the airport was de-notified by the previous Digambar Kamat government. He was in the forefront of the attack on the government on this matter. Now it’s more than one year that he’s in government but there has been no action.

Similarly, take the case of illegal mining. He was the champion of this cause and led a scathing attack on the ruling dispensation throughout the previous term of the Goa legislative assembly. But now he is not delivering. On the contrary he’s singing a completely different tune from his vociferous anti-illegal mining chorus.

On corruption too, the ground reality is as bad as it was during the Congress regime. You should be able to point out a perceptible change for the better, but in the instant case you can’t.

AR: The present BJP-led government is proactively taking the Mopa airport project forward? Why are you still steadfast in your opposition to Mopa?

RG: We have always believed that an airport in Goa should service the whole state and for this it should be centrally located. The present Dabolim airport suits the bill fine. If at all it’s necessary to build an alternative airport, then it should be done in a centrally located area. Mopa is not centrally located. It is not being built for Goa. It’s being built for Maharashtra. It could have been in Keri, where land on the plateau is already in the government’s possession.

I cannot fault the BJP-led government for zealously pursuing the Mopa airport project because the BJP has always supported Mopa. But Forest Minister Alina Saldanha, has some explaining to do. Her late husband, Matanhy, was staunchly and publicly anti-Mopa airport. Did the BJP agree to drop Mopa or did Matanhy agree to the airport project? It’s for Alina to explain to the public what exactly the deal was. If it’s the former then the BJP is betraying its departed leader and if it’s the latter than it’s clear that he betrayed the cause of anti-Mopa airport activists.

AR: But the Dabolim airport faces huge problems and is projected to be unable to handle future growth in passenger air traffic.

RG: The Navy has usurped Dabolim which is essentially a civilian airport. I don’t understand why the Navy lends so much importance to having a base at the Dabolim airport. Goa by no stretch of imagination is a defence sensitive area. The Navy should rather concentrate on building its capabilities closer to defence sensitive areas where they can reach in quick time to tackle incursions like the recent one by the Chinese in Ladhak. Besides, the Sea Bird naval base in Karwar is just 50 to 70 kilometres away from Dabolim. The logic of why the Navy wants two naval bases within 70 kilometres of each other, beats me.

It appears to me that we are being treated like a colony. Even the recent accident where a Coast Guard ship collided with a trawler killing six of its crew, exposes this colonial attitude. I understand that it was an accident, but even in war, an enemy survivor is expected to be picked up by the victorious forces and given medical attention. How come the Coast Guard personnel just left the survivors to their fate?

AR: How do you see the Chief Minister’s handling of the contentious medium of instruction imbroglio?  Are you happy with the current arrangement?

RG: I’m certainly not satisfied. Grant-in-aid to schools should be delinked from the medium of instruction. Every parent should have the freedom to decide which medium of instruction his/her child should opt for.

The present arrangement adopted by the government is sectarian. It’s meant to oblige the Catholic community and also deprive the Hindu Bahujan Samaj the opportunity to study in English medium.

Let every village/area have English, Konkani and Marathi schools so that parents have the choice to admit their child in any one. Ninety per-cent will enrol their children in English medium. In 10 years, it will wipe out Marathi in Goa but Konkani will survive because it’s the natural language of Goans and it will be spoken and used in day-to-day life. This whole controversy is being fuelled by the Marathi lobby to sustain the imported language in Goa. The few Konkaniwadis opposing English medium schools are misguided.