Wednesday, 28 September 2016

LOCAL COMMANDS INSTEAD OF HIGH COMMANDS?



The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the Goan electoral scene has thrown up some interesting responses from their apparent rivals. One criticism of AAP is that it continues the culture of taking orders from the ‘High Command’ in Delhi, effectively being no different from other ‘national’ parties that have ruled Goa thus far. Given that Goa has been ruled by one or the other of the national parties in the last decade, one can understand the existence of such a sentiment against ‘High Command’ and ‘Delhi’ as these power blocs have overseen most of the political mess in recent times. On the other hand, raking up the problem of the ‘High Command’ is an easy go-to solution for Goan parties, like Goa Forward, which can also conceal their lack of political vision for the future.

Also, the above-mentioned criticism leveled is not unfounded. A year ago, its now-expelled founder-member Yogendra Yadav had issued a statement calling the functioning of the top leadership of AAP as “Delhi Durbar culture”. It also doesn’t help matters much that the sales-pitch of Goa’s AAP has been that their successful model of governance in Delhi will be replicated in Goa. Notwithstanding the fact that the conditions in Goa and Delhi differ, such a sales-pitch is uncannily similar to the one in which the ‘Gujarat model’ was held as applicable to and transformative for the whole country.

No doubt, AAP is not the only party to operate in the ‘High Command’ mode. Other ‘national’ parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too operate this way. Even an organization like the RSS which set up base in Goa so many years ago is part of the ‘High Command’ culture – the only difference is that the RSS is headquartered in Nagpur and not Delhi. Thus, one can go beyond political parties and see how the ‘High Command’ can thrive in different ways in different organizations.

 However, it can be argued that due to the centralized nature of the Indian State, diktats from Delhi are not simply limited to commands by the top-brass of political parties. They go much further, including laws, policies, and decisions that the states have to follow or enforce. The system of administration and governance in India does not follow a ‘federal’ model, and hence most of the important legislations are in fact made in Delhi. Terms like ‘national interest’ are indicative that the state at the regional level has very little say.

Take, for instance, the recent issue of ‘nationalizing’ Goa’s rivers. This basically means that the Central government will control the use of the rivers. The protests against such a move may have started now, but the proposed ‘nationalization’ was conceptualized way back in 2010. Similarly, the issue of holding Portuguese citizenship along with Indian citizenship is an example of a specifically Goan issue which Goans are not allowed to decide themselves. It is said that under Indian law ‘dual citizenship’ is not possible and when the issue was referred to ‘Delhi’, the concerned authorities determined the issue without giving due attention to Goa’s legal history or its present conditions.

So, the point to take home is that a culture of ‘High Command’ is not only intrinsic, but is also endemic to the political and administrative system in India. The alternative of a Goa-centric political outfit, in all honesty, hasn’t ever existed in Goa. In this context one can recall the government under the Chief Ministership of Dayanand Bandodkar. The surprise victory of Bandodkar in the first elections of 1963 halted the triumphal march of the Congress party. The Congress, despite being the sole ‘national’ party at that time, and one which had overseen the departure of the Estado da Índia, was rejected by the majority of Goan voters.


This is not to say that Bandodkar and his Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party were consciously being regional, but to suggest that a combination of voting for a non-national party, and a politics of taking (Marathi) education to the bahujan classes led to approximately 20 years – from 1960s to 1980s – of Goa apparently avoiding the ‘High Command’ system and culture. At least to a certain extent. Against the ‘national’ policy of investing in higher education, Bandodkar focused his attention on primary education, as Parag Porobo argues in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015). But while Bandodkar may have thus operated differently from the ‘national’ in some respects, there were other instances when he was under the pressure of powers from Delhi. For example, Bandodkar had to work closely with the government at the Center, as a chief minister of a union territory had fewer powers, during the Opinion Poll and very often claimed to be a Congressman himself.

As for a local party, there is no real alternative available largely because the regional parties have mostly preferred to sway the electorate with tired clichés about ‘Goemkarponn’ and ‘saving Goa’. Such tired clichés mean nothing as they are narrowly-defined to serve vested interests. Having a regional or local political outfit does not guarantee that the culture of the ‘High Command’ will cease to exist or that the interests of all kinds of Goans will be safeguarded. In fact, if observed closely the regional parties, like the national ones, always serve the interests of the elites of the dominant class and caste in Goa. Laws such as the Investment Promotion Act are fast-tracked in the name of national development. Either the Indian elites or the Goan ones, or both, get a lion’s share from Goa’s ‘development’ – be it in real estate or in mining. Ultimately what needs to be ascertained properly is how much power is shared by either the ‘High Command’ or the local power blocs with those who are not part of, or do not have access to, the state machinery and institutions. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 28 September, 2016)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

RIGHT OR NOT RIGHT? THE CURIOUS GAMES OF THE POLITICAL CLASS



The apparent fissure between the RSS and its Goa leadership, and the tension between the Goa RSS and the BJP was projected in the media as an important development in the country. The sacking of Subhash Velingkar from his duties as the head of the Goa RSS unit, and his subsequent forming of an RSS unit in Goa, independent of Nagpur, were events of importance for the upcoming elections in 2017 and 2019, according to many political commentators. While Velingkar was sacked by the Nagpur leadership which led to mass resignation of hundreds of RSS members in Goa, one is at a loss to understand how is it that the rebel-organization still claims to maintain administrative and official links with the Nagpur headquarters. Indeed, there was never any talk of disowning the ideology of the RSS. As such one needs to ask if this apparent revolt in the RSS is really significant or not.

The context in which we understand the so-called RSS revolt in Goa will determine the political future of Goa for the next five or ten years. Presently, this so-called revolt has been understood as one erupting due to the upcoming elections. If anything, elections are only a small part of the causes that provoked the so-called revolt. One needs to instead focus on how the interventions of the RSS and other political parties have created, or sustained, conditions in which Hindutva and marginalization persists.

Let us try to see how the apparent fissures can or will impact some of the burning issues of policy- and legislation-making in Goa. If we take the issue of Medium of Instruction (MoI), nothing appears to be so radical vis-à-vis the fissures in the RSS. The ostensible reason for the sacking and revolt of Velingkar is his refusal to accept the decision of government grants to Diocesan-run schools. Velingkar feels that such grants should be completely stopped. While the BJP government, under the then chief ministership of Manohar Parrikar, had cleverly skirted the issue of allowing government funding for all English medium schools, by only allowing grants to “minority institutions”, the hardcore RSS members and the equally Hindutvavadi Bharitya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) saw even this as a betrayal of the Hindutva or majoritarian cause. Thus, the issue now got projected as one driven by apparent Christian interests, whereas in reality it was a legitimate demand made by a number of Goan communities. The manner in which the MoI issue has been handled thus far has jeopardized the education and futures of all Goan children. And as I have pointed out in the past on several occasions, the lack of government funding to English will further affect low-income and bahujan families by depriving them of the tools of social mobility.

This politics of casteism embedded in the mobilization of Velingkar and his BBSM was acknowledged by the Forum for Rights of Children’s Education (FORCE) as being “anti-Bahujan Samaj”.  Denying social mobility to the bahujan classes is very much within the RSS’s vision of maintaining the four-fold Indian hierarchy of varnas and thousands of jatis for keeping intact the dominance and superiority of the upper caste Hindu. In the case of Velingkar and the BBSM this is done in the guise of protecting Indian culture and languages, while making sure that no steps are taken to ensure that various bahujan and minoritized communities would get social and economic mobility.

In many ways, Velingkar’s silence over the casinos exposes his hypocrisy. Velingkar claims that his opposition to English is because English is equivalent to ‘Western culture’ which compromises the fundamental ideology of the RSS. However, the numerous volte faces by this government on the issue of casinos did not lead to any protests by Velingkar. The casinos surely check all the boxes of promoting Western culture, apart from being harmful to the riverine environment of the Mandovi and the livelihoods related to this ecology. But only English education leads to the destruction of Indian culture, going by Velingkar’s revolt.

While on the topic of Indian culture and how the RSS polices anything outside this narrowly defined Indian culture, one needs to see how Hindutva operates in marginalizing communities. Immediately after Velingkar’s apparent split became public, right-wing think tanks started analyzing the event as one that was created because the Church and the Church-run institutions were given favorable treatment by the BJP government. In other words, the apparent appeasement of minoritized communities and their institutions are responsible for the failure of the BJP to uphold their own ideology. In fact, days after the apparent revolt when the breakaway faction lead by Velingkar clarified that they would go back to the RSS proper once they successfully oust the BJP in the coming elections, Velingkar also revealed that he would like to oppose moves demanding dual citizenship, and the promotion of Portuguese culture through cultural fests. One need not be a rocket scientist to realize that Velingkar is effectively targeting not Portuguese or Western culture but the Christian communities who are associated with these cultures.

While it is true that elections are around the corner, one needs to be wary of how such political revolts and bickering can divert our attention away from important policies and legislations. Velingkar was always clear that the principles of the RSS cannot be ever sacrificed, even if it means working against the BJP in Goa. Even if it might appear to be a game-changer, the core of what really drives organizations like the RSS and the BBSM has not changed one bit.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 14 September, 2016)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

LANGUAGE WARS AND HOW TO WIN THEM



The recent resolution passed by the Goa Legislative Assembly to include Marathi as an official language has once again ignited the conflict surrounding languages in Goa. That this resolution, proposed by independent MLA Narendra Sawal, was passed on the last day of the Assembly session, and when elections are just round the corner, indicates that it has more to do with shifts and machinations of political power than with the emotional connect of many Goans with the Marathi language. Whether we like it or not, the ‘language issue’ is a potent force for political mobilization and one needs to fight the communal polarization of the ‘language issue’ by opening the language-sphere of Goa to English, Romi Concanim, Portuguese, and Marathi.

The resolution produced the same old frustrating responses from most Goans. Many felt that “Konkani” was their “mother tongue” with which they shared an emotional mother-child relationship, and that there was no place for any other language. Others felt, erroneously so, that those Goans who were demanding official recognition for Marathi should go to Maharashtra. Still others felt that the existing Official Language Act of 1987 (OLA) should not be changed, thus effectively implying that Romi Concanim should also not be given official status. While the Marathi activists were understandably jubilant, this jubilation seemed to be misguided on many levels, as the resolution was passed without any mention of Romi Concanim. To be fair, a week later the Marathi Rajbhasha Samiti demanded that Romi be included in the OLA. This resolution probably owes its existence to recent calls for Marathi-Romi and Hindu-Catholic unity. However, with this resolution by the Samiti coming too late, it would perhaps end up doing too little.

In this context, it is interesting to note the comments that the MLA of St. Andre, Vishnu Surya Wagh, made in the Assembly as well as in his recent writings for a prominent Marathi daily in Goa. Wagh, who is, at the moment of writing, recovering from an illness, had vociferously written against the casteist, communal, and chauvinist politics of nagri Konkani. While supporting the cause of Marathi, Wagh had also made the strong case that Romi Concanim was a legitimate language of Goa, and one that was older than the nagri-scripted Konkani. Wagh also spoke in the Assembly on the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue. In his characteristic oratorial style, Wagh argued that because Romi was denied to a large number of Catholics, and nagri Konkani foisted on them, Catholics were demanding English education for their wards. While one can partially agree with Wagh, his opposition to English is problematic. For one, English is not just the demand made by Catholics, but bahujan Hindus too, as their socio-economic aspirations are tied to that language. The ‘Marathi-lovers’ must necessarily recognize this fact. Further, to not recognize the importance of English would be to drag the people of Goa back into the narrow and parochial linguistic politics, endangering the education and futures of Goa’s children.

In recent times, Wagh has emerged as the one politician and language activist who has taken a holistic stand on the language question. His arguments extended beyond language per se, to recognize that language is linked to power and communities. However, all the good work that he did proved to be fruitless by the one resolution that was passed in his very presence. So, how are the language wars to be won as well as ended once and for all? To do this one needs to think differently from how we have been thinking so far. One should begin by seeing the MoI issue as not separate but one which emerges out of the already existing language problem. Thus, the problem will fade away if grants to English medium schools are immediately legalized, irrespective of whether they are diocesan or not. It is quite ridiculous that the Goan state which makes laws in English, and conducts state business in English, does not want its young citizens to study in English. One should also think about expanding the linguistic sphere of Goa by recognizing the Portuguese language as important for Goa’s people in terms of legal frameworks, history, culture, and mobility.

Most importantly, Romi Concanim needs to be recognized as official post haste.  Not just this, it is the need of the hour to privilege Romi Concanim over nagri Konkani or even Marathi. With nagri Konkani as official and Marathi allowed to be used for all official purposes, the status quo needs to be shaken. This is so because a lot needs to be done to make Marathi politics work in favor of all Goans. Marathi-supporters have not yet been able to tell us how the interests of Catholics will be safeguarded, considering that jobs have been secured by many with the knowledge of Marathi (and nagri Konkani), despite Marathi being not recognized as fully official. The Marathi-supporters haven’t been able to tell us how they will stop the use of the Marathi language for the spread of Hindutva, for many know that it is through the emotional and cultural bonds of Marathi that Hindutva has mobilized in Goa over the last few decades. The Marathi-supporters haven’t told us why the Marathi movement which began as a pro-bahujan, anti-brahmin, anti-caste movement was compromised in favor of Brahmanism and Hindutva. Marathi activists need to clearly think about how to move away from the ‘Marathi-equals-merger’, a political fear not entirely baseless, which emerged out of the politics of Dayanand Bandodkar and the Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party in the 1960s.

Thus, it is imperative that the language-sphere of Goa is expanded to include Romi Concanim and legalize grants to English as MoI, and only subsequently recognize Marathi as official. Doing so, one would not only escape the claustrophobic language politics of Goa, but also craft a more international Goan citizenry, while effectively challenging the rise of Hindutva.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 31 August, 2016)

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

GOA AND EUROPE: NATIONALISM AND 'BONITOS MACACOS'



In the course of discussing the issue of the existence of legal and emotional bonds between Goa and Portugal, and how these bonds enabled the Goan to engage with a larger European world, I had suggested that such an engagement gets hijacked by nationalism. I would like to return to the theme to suggest that there is a longer history of pitting European culture, which is embodied in the Europeanized Goan, against Indian culture. Today, while an act like supporting the Portuguese football team, or reclaiming Portuguese citizenship, or simply demanding English as a Medium of Instruction in primary schools, may invite charges of being ‘anti-national’, about a hundred years ago it was the apparently mindless and shameless ‘aping’ of Western culture that was held up as an obstruction to true civilizational progress. One needs to locate the present allegation of being ‘anti-national’ and being ‘denationalized’ in this history of Goan intellectuals believing that the Goan was a ‘mimic-man’ due to his use of aspects of European culture.

The present problems emerging out of identity conflicts and communal polarization have their roots in a politics that projected a Sanskritically-constructed ‘Indian’ culture as the ‘other’ of Western or European culture. Suffice it to say that a shift was demanded entirely towards this ‘Indian’ culture rather than carefully thinking about the political future of Goans and Goa; a mixed-bag of rights and privileges that would enable cultural and social mobility for the Goans. In other words, rather than defining a politics based on the ground realities of different Goan communities, the nationalism of the elites was imposed on the masses.

In this context one can refer to Evagrio Jorge’s pamphlet A Reforma do Vestuário (1942). Jorge argued that Catholic intolerance and the propaganda of the Estado Novo had convinced the people of Goa that there was nothing better than European culture, making them loath certain aspects of Indian culture. As such, Jorge suggested that a change was needed and this could be brought about by changing to Indian modes of dressing. This would rescue the Goan from the civilizational degradations that had plagued him. Jorge’s propaganda made its arguments and suggestions not only through practical concerns of hygienic clothing for instance, but also in a manner that would culturally humiliate his readers. Arguing that the “heavy European clothing” was unsuited for a hot, tropical climate like ours, Jorge went on to suggest that Goans had to let go of “false ideas of grandeur” regarding European sartorial choices if they did not want to be referred to as “bonitos macacos (beautiful monkeys)”.

It is not really surprising that writers and political activists who thought that Goans were simply mimicking and aping Western culture would use a term like ‘monkey’ to ridicule them. In fact this was not the only way the Europeanized Goan was ridiculed. Jorge, in the same pamphlet, cites at length a passage from Dr. Antonio de Miranda’s Alguns Aspectos da Nossa Mentalidade (1933). Dr. Miranda too argued that a shift towards Indian culture and traditions was necessary. He attempted to criticize what he considered burlesque behavior amongst Goans, but ended up ridiculing the very persons he sought to reform. He recounts an incident about his mundcar, who, having completed his first viaj on board a P&O liner, wanted to present a crucifix to the chapel of his village. To that end he searched all shops in all the ports that his ship had berthed for a crucifix with Christ dressed in a tailcoat and a top-hat – in other words European clothes.
 
Evagrio Jorge
One cannot help but notice that, in suggesting that the engagement of Goans with European culture was burlesque, Dr. Miranda too invoked the ridiculous image of ‘bonitos macacos’ or the mimic-man. It is also interesting that it is the figure of the mundcar which comes in for ridicule. Thus, not all Goans are equally ridiculed and held responsible for Westernization, even if all of them are considered Westernized. Accounts and anecdotes of Goan intellectuals ridiculing the Europeanized Goan are quite revealing, seen from the class/caste perspective. Claims to European culture, then as today, had the potential of re-figuring the power-relations in Goa; one that elites increasingly shifting towards Indian nationalism wanted to counter. Through European dressing and the Portuguese language, the mundcar could make a claim for equality with the bhatkar. After all, given that the majority of Goan population today belongs to the former mundcarial class, it can easily be pointed out that it is the mundcarial underclass that is largely opting for a Portuguese passport and is being increasingly attacked for not having any loyalty to the Indian nation and culture today.

One needs to recognize that the claims to Europe and European-ness by the Goan are not a recent phenomenon, emerging due to the ability of Goans to reclaim their Portuguese citizenship. Issues of caste and class would undercut assertions that demand power and privilege to be distributed justly. One can also see how a nationalist politics demanding fidelity to Indian culture can neutralize lower class assertion and also obstruct the mobility of persons. Indulging in ridicule and outrage over this issue would only further the problem of Goans becoming strangers in Goa.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 17 August, 2016)