Tuesday, June 19, 2018


From April onwards, there have been several power failures in the state; they are not over yet. At the beginning of June, it became crystal clear that the cause of the power failures was not just faulty and aging equipment, but also gross mismanagement by the electricity department. Goans even learnt that to keep a particular big time corporate builder happy, the department had decided that an entire taluka could suffer a day-and-a-half without power.

One can think of the frequent power failures as a metaphor for the sorry state of affairs in Goa. Every year one witnesses a spectacular display of inefficiency in the management of public infrastructure by the administration. At other times, the administration deliberately denies the public services and utilities as it happened when two of the Panjim-Betim ferries were used for the benefit of casinos. There is no accountability and no one has been able to hold the administration accountable for simple and basic services. The result is quite plainly visible – flooded streets, overflowing sewage, leaking roofs of public schools, snapped electric cables, damaged footpaths, and general chaos all around.

One needs to ask why does such chaos, emerging from mismanagement and an unaccountable administration, recur every year? The reason is that the elected representatives – across party and ideological lines – have failed to provide the leadership that the positions they occupy demand. I am not making an argument that perfunctorily blames politicians – or corruption – in general. But what I am suggesting is that there is a particular systemic problem within the administrative system with the elected representatives having abandoned completely the idea of public good. If we would turn the formulation on its head, corruption results because elected representatives have abdicated responsibility, trust, and accountability – or public interest so vital for the system. One could think of elected representatives in the past as crafting the Constitution, or formulating land reform laws in Goa as promoting ideas of public good.

Abandoning ideas of public good has consequences for the administrative machinery. One has to understand that the administration can be divided into two broad sections: the executive, which is occupied by the elected representatives and the cabinet ministers; and the bureaucrats or the government servants, who are employed to run the administrative machinery, which includes the implementation of the policies and laws that the executive formulates.

If we consider the incident wherein the whole of the Tiswadi taluka was left without power, it appears that certain decisions were made by the Power Minister (the executive) without taking the concerned bureaucracy into confidence (or without informing them properly). Alternately, one can suggest that the bureaucracy did not properly respond to the decisions of the executive. Sample this: when news of the builder being unfairly favored emerged, the Chief Engineer of the Electricity Department admitted that he had no knowledge of the work being carried out. Given the fact that there is a stop work order from 2017, the bureaucracy should not have allowed the workers to go ahead with the work since due process was not followed. In any case, the Department was not prepared to undertake the work of such proportions, and one doesn’t know who exactly gave the orders to commence the work.

Goa may have many leaders with thousands of supporters, and who shower them with countless favors, but the fact is that once in power – in ministries, or in legislature/parliament, where it matters the most – they are rarely able to run the affairs of the state efficiently. Contrast this with the spectacular display of promises and popular support during the campaigning for elections. Also, consider the situation immediately after the results are declared, when cutthroat power negotiations take place. All these theatrics give the impression that the political class wields immense power to change the world for the better, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Indeed, they do wield very real and tangible power but that is often used (or misused) for private gain and to further the interests of big businesses.

Perhaps, the rot goes deeper considering the fact that the elected representatives are rarely seen conducting the business of the state inside the parliament/legislature, or through the administrative system. It is becoming increasingly clear that more and more politicians spend their time in election rallies than anywhere else. For one reason or the other (legitimately or not) sessions of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly have been wiped out. In Goa, for instance, there wasn’t a single cabinet meeting held for the last three months. The important budget session was conducted in an unprecedented rush because the Chief Minister was ill. If any laws have been passed in the last 4 or 5 years, they are done so without any public discussion. Many of these laws are detrimental for the people and the environment.

It is important that citizens extract accountability from the administration; emphasize that the affairs of the state be conducted through proper channels like the legislature and local governing bodies. One can suggest that if the system is collapsing – or not functioning properly – it is largely because the persons in the administration have not ensured that it runs smoothly. The elected representatives, and to a lesser extent government servants, do not seem interested in upholding public interest. Selling off public resources – and therefore public interest – to the highest bidder today is the norm. The manner in which power is expressed in our society needs to change, one that privileges public interest and not private gain. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 June, 2018)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Over the last couple of years, pastoral letters written by various bishops in India have led to national furore over their contents. While the writing of pastoral letters is routine, these letters found themselves in the eye of the storm largely because they were written around the time of elections and referenced the problematic political conditions affecting minoritized caste and religious groups. The most recent of such pastoral letters to have received the attention and ire of Indian media is written by Anil Couto, the Archbishop of Delhi. But if one considers all the recent statements together, a particular pattern emerges – one that concerns the health of the Indian polity. Let us proceed chronologically.

In 2015, the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) led a campaign that demanded that English as a medium of instruction (MoI) in primary schools to be not funded by the Goa government. Despite a widespread demand from all sections of Goan society for English, the BBSM and other such right-wing organizations blamed Catholics and the Church for going against the interest of Indian culture. As is usual, these organizations attempted to pit ‘Hindu sentiment’ against the Christian communities in Goa. In response to the false accusations, the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Felipe Neri Ferrao at the annual Christmas civic reception pointed out that in terms of education, and in other matters like religious tolerance and Goa’s environmental destruction the role of the Church was viewed with suspicion.

What followed the speech at the civic reception were wild accusations about the Church not being Indian enough – or being directly responsible for Goan Christians being disloyal to Goan ethos and Indian culture. An editor of a prominent Marathi daily – who recently coined the bizarre and Islamophobic term “Kristi Jihad” – even went to the extent of finding proof of the Archbishop’s/Church’s un-Indianness in the fact that the gathering was addressed in English!

Towards the end of 2017 and with the Gujarat State legislative assembly elections round the corner, Thomas Macwan, the Archbishop of Gandhinagar found his pastoral latter being splashed across TV news channels, and loud, uncouth debates conducted over its contents. The letter cautioned that the growing influence of nationalism was threatening the core constitutional values of India. The relevant portion of the letter needs to be quoted for a better understanding of what Archbishop Macwan was concerned about: “We are aware that the secular fabric of our country is at stake. Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor etc”.

Archbishop Macwan’s letter was directed to re-claim what he understood to be an Indianness – secular in character – that is disintegrating due to ugly power struggles. Even if India may not have a great track record of upholding secularism and protecting marginalized groups in the past, letters such as those of Archbishop Macwan repose faith in the founding principles of the Indian constitution. The manner in which this is done is by swearing allegiance to a certain idea of nationhood – or Indianness – for securing rights and citizenship. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a gap, an ever widening gap, between the noble principles enshrined in the Indian constitution and contemporary Indian nationalism (irrespective of political leanings); there is no equality as such and there are no equal partners in this nationhood.

Which is why we are in a situation wherein only few groups can legitimately speak for the ‘nation’ – and ‘minorities’, or the minoritized are not a part of this group. This was very clear through the furore that followed Archbishop Couto’s letter; most had no idea what was so objectionable in the letter. In many ways, one could consider Archbishop Couto’s letter (along with Archbishop Ferrao’s recent letter) as similarly directing our attention to hold fast onto the founding constitutional principles. While we welcome the calls for following the constitutional principles, one has to be careful while understanding the repeated references to the “secular fabric” of India. One cannot assume that there was secularism which is now under threat; the numerous instances of planned sectarian violence over the course of the last half century against marginalized groups are a case in point. Secularism, if one goes by its fraught history in India, is not something that seamlessly exists with the current idea of Indian nationhood, but a promise that needs to be realized.

And it is precisely in times of elections – or impending elections – that one feels the threat to the constitutional principles. In this sense, many of the bishops in India who have expressed concerns about the political future of the people owing to an election cannot be faulted. However, if one thinks that it is only in times of elections that one can stop the rapid rot of the Indian political system then one is sadly mistaken. Elections come and go and short-term politicking does little to improve the lot of the poor and marginalized.

In times of deep political crisis, one feels the need for moral leadership. In this sense, the Church in India is quite suited considering its systematic and long-term charity work and the ideas of compassion it brings to public life. Therefore, it is legitimate for the Church to be concerned and act in the here and now, without compromising its core values. But it has to recognize that marginalization of various groups is a deeper problem, beyond the scope of nationalism and elections. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 June, 2018)