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Communal Menace in Goa is Alive and Kicking

by Vidyadhar Gadgil, 22 September 2008

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Herald, 19 September 2008

Hard on the heels of the communal violence in Orissa, we have an outbreak of communal violence in Karnataka. In both cases, it is the Christian community that has been attacked and the purported reason has been protests against conversions. The BJP is in power in both Karnataka (on its own) and Orissa (as a coalition partner).

After the attacks in Karnataka, the BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka B S Yediyurappa, a man with very strong RSS links, has assured strict action against the miscreants. But even this statement, the very minimum that could be expected, has not come without the customary rhetoric about conversions, notwithstanding the fact that there has not been a single complaint about illegal conversions in Karnataka. In effect, the message sought to be sent out is that the Christian community deserved what happened. While the promised action against those guilty of the attacks on churches and Christians is awaited, there has been action of another kind - against those, both Christians and others, protesting the communal violence in Karnataka. Obviously, Yediyurappa means to keep his oft-repeated promise to convert Karnataka into another Gujarat.

The rising communal temperature in the country should come as no surprise. With the 2008 general elections approaching, calculations within the BJP suggest that it would not be able to get more than 140 seats, while it would need at least about 180 to be sure of forming a coalition government at the centre. Given this scenario, those within the BJP who have been pushing for a hard-line communal mobilisation agenda (the ’Modi line’) have prevailed.

The Amarnath issue came as a great opportunity for the BJP. The party milked the issue for every last drop of political mileage, not only in Jammu but all over India; little did it care that the consequent blockade of the Kashmir valley set back the normalisation process in Kashmir by many years, and further deepened the alienation felt by the average Kashmiri from the Indian nation.

But one Amarnath does not an election make: the tempo has to be built up and sustained. The obvious targets for this are the states where communal propaganda has been going on for years, and where there are friendly governments in power. It is in this context that the communal violence in Orissa (and parts of MP) and Karnataka against the Christian community has to be seen. We can expect more trouble spots to emerge in the months ahead.

Such strategies of communal polarisation can sometimes cause some collateral damage to the BJP’s own short-term interests, and one of the sites of such collateral damage is in Goa. The citizens of Goa, irrespective of faith and community, have been outraged by the violence against the Christian community, and have united to condemn the violence. The rally in Panjim on 16 September saw thousands of citizens of all communities come together to oppose communalism.

For a few years now, ever since it realised that it is well-nigh impossible to win an election in Goa without at least a portion of the Catholic vote, the state BJP has put its efforts to woo the Catholic vote into overdrive. But now the BJP finds its strategy in shambles, with the Catholic community completely alienated and other communities too increasingly sceptical of the BJP’s bonafides. It is in this context that one has to understand the crocodile tears being shed by Manohar Parrikar over the communal violence in Karnataka.

The fact of the matter is that the Goa BJP has no choice but to be seen condemning this violence (though even this condemnation has been qualified with dubious figures indicating that in Goa it is Hindu shrines that are more under attack than churches or mosques). Coastal Karnataka is just too close by, and culturally similar, to be studiously ignored the way Parrikar ignored communal violence in other parts of the country. About Orissa he continues to maintain a glacial silence. He has consistently refused to utter even a word of condemnation or protest over Gujarat; whenever the topic has come up in interviews, he has only said that Gujarat is not relevant, and we should talk about Goa. Let us take his advice and do just that.

The March 2006 communal violence in Sanvordem-Curchorem awakened Goans to the harsh reality of communalism in their midst. People realised that the strong syncretic traditions of Goa were insufficient bulwark against the systematic communal propaganda being carried out by various Hindutvavadi organisations like the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the RSS, the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. These bodies have been working to communalise Goan society for many years ; and it is the BJP which has benefited politically while professing to have nothing to do with it (convincing nobody except those who, for whatever reason, deliberately refuse to see).

In the post-Sanvordem era, we have been treated by the HJS to an exhibition on Kashmir, which was used to portray Muslims as the common enemy of Indians. The same body has been organising a series of ’Dharma Jagruti Sabhas’, ostensibly meant for ’defence of the Hindu faith’. Margao has been teetering on the brink of communal violence, and serious conflagrations have been narrowly avoided twice in the past year. During the most recent incidents in Margao, the Bajrang Dal leader Jayesh Naik openly appealed to ’all Goans, including Hindus and Christians’, to unite against Muslims. There have also been many smaller incidents.

Certain other factors have also helped make the situation in Goa more fertile for communalism. The years when the BJP was in power enabled infiltration of elements from the Sangh Parivar into governmental bodies. Also, the anger against anti-people development, which found expression in the agitations against the Regional Plan and mega-projects, has sometimes taken a communal turn, in that migrants are targeted. Fortunately, the leaders of these movements, while recognising that excessive in-migration is a genuine problem, realised that it was the development paradigm that was at fault, not the migrants who come to Goa for work. But those elements which take a more Goan-chauvinist line on such issues have made common cause with the BJP, and served as its frontmen, ratcheting up the right-wing rhetoric. As a result, much of the brunt of the anti-migrant feeling has been felt by migrant Muslims in Goa, although they are only a small part of the overall migration into Goa. 

All in all, communalism is not just knocking on Goa’s doors; it has made a full-fledged entry. It is only if all secular-minded citizens unite, to oppose forces who would use the pretext of religion to achieve political ends that Goa will be able to fight the menace of communalism