When the Chief Minister of Goa endeavours to establish a constant narrative about rebuilding demolished temples and enacting an anti-conversion law or anti “forced” conversion law, it warrants a fundamental question – why?
Goa, by nature, is harmonious. All communities live in complete peace here. Several attempts to disturb this peace have been foiled as the general populace did not react to the vitriol certain elements were attempting to pour on Goa’s socio-cultural landscape. However, that has not deterred them from trying, periodically.
The first statement about rebuilding temples demolished during the Portuguese regime was uttered a couple of weeks before the assembly election. It sounded like an off-the-cuff remark. No one, including the chief minister himself, followed it up till the polling. The idea gathered momentum post results. It evolved as part of the stated policy of the government and even found a noticeable standing in the state budget. The chief minister never even mentioned this idea during his first term. It was not even in the domain of any conversation. Neither he nor his cabinet colleagues even referred to a thought process that pointed in this direction. Now, after the elections, this template of the so-called 'cultural renaissance' has become a cornerstone of Pramod Sawant's policy.
In a probable follow-up to the same sentiment, the Government of Goa now wants to enact an anti-conversion law or as per the government version, anti 'forced' conversion law. No one knows why the government is facing a need to enact such a law. No police station is flooded with complaints of coercive conversions. Police have taken action against an individual who was accused of converting people to his sect by alluring them. Apart from this solitary incident, there is no public knowledge or police complaints regarding religious conversions. Yet, this government wants to proceed with an Act against forcible religious conversions.
For Goa BJP, this is a paradigm shift. When BJP attained power for the first time in Goa 22 years back, the Catholic population of the state was sceptical yet open to the fresh administration of a charismatic man like Manohar Parrikar. When certain elements within his government attempted to push the hardliner agenda along the similar lines that Pramod Sawant is pushing now, it received intense backlash and Congress remained in power for more than seven years despite widespread allegations and indications of corruption and maladministration.
Manohar Parrikar painstakingly attempted to build some intimate bridges between the party and Goa's biggest minority population - the Christians. He persuaded the majority of the minority population that his dispensation is no longer interested in any hardliner or fundamentalist agenda. He succeeded to a considerable extent. BJP got a simple majority in 2012 because the minority population either decided to vote for the BJP-backed candidates, if not BJP candidates on the party symbol, or not vote for the Congress. Congress' tally was reduced to a single digit and Manohar Parrikar emerged as the icon of 'secular Hindutva'.
This standpoint of the BJP continued even after Parrikar's death and Pramod Sawant during his first term tried to maintain the practice. Question is - what changed?
BJP in Goa has increasingly realised that they no longer can rely upon the minority voter base that stood with them a decade ago. The transmission bridges that Parrikar built have collapsed. BJP does not have a leadership that can cut across the religious cross-section with a towering appeal. Their consistent vote share has made them realise that the minority vote may prefer to vote for a BJP-supported independent candidate or an alliance partner candidate rather than a candidate on BJP's symbol even if a candidate is from the minority community. Recently concluded elections have conclusively proven it. Moreover, the majority of the constituencies in the state are located in minority-led areas whereas, although geographically widespread, the number of constituencies in the Hindu voter-dominated areas of the state is comparatively lesser. So the party has embraced a two-prong approach. They have appropriated some heavyweights from the minority-dominated areas who win elections on their might notwithstanding the symbol that shelters them. Currently, most of them are in the BJP. Simultaneously, Pramod Sawant has begun this rhetoric of 'cultural renaissance'.
The Opposition has been actively aiding and abetting, perhaps unwillingly and maybe unknowingly, this project of the BJP. The opposition space is completely fractured, their MLAs are not even willing to continue in the opposition. As I write this column, there are strong gossips that more than half of the Congress MLAs may again jump over to the BJP. There is no leader left in Congress that can question these newfound policies of this newly formed government. Most of them want to be part of the BJP. The door has been left ajar for them however, I am told, the clearance to let them in is awaited. Desk in charge of the BJP C T Ravi openly stated during the party's state executive meeting that many MLAs from the Opposition are willing and waiting to join the BJP and the move hasn't gone ahead because the party is yet to clear it.
The Chief Minister has at least clarified that he has no intention of levelling any churches. This means some structures of the destroyed or demolished temples in their original location need to exist. It is fair to assume that the Archaeology department of the Government of Goa has formulated a precise plan as CM has even made budgetary provisions for reconstruction. But when one enquires, the department plainly states that they have no idea what we are talking about.
In short, our government wants to rebuild temples without any database and wants to enact an anti (forcible) conversion law without any large-scale complaints from the society. The premise looks largely political, neither cultural nor legislative.
(Pramod Acharya is a senior journalist and columnist and the Editor of Prudent Media, Goa. He tweets at @PramodGoa)