2004-01-12 03:50:15 UTC
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Hindutva on the beach
Why tiny Goa is the poster state for a modern BJP
New Year revellers are crawling back from the beaches of BJP-ruled Goa, having cast off their
clothes and inhibitions for a few days of sandy celebration. As the parties on the beach wind
down, another party is being fashioned not so far away from the fun-worshippers gyrating nakedly
their shacks. In an election year, with hope in its heart and bijli sadak pani on its lips, the
BJP is desperately seeking a modern identity. It is seeking an identity that is different from
that frightening backward-looking anti-woman, anti-minority and anti-youth force known as
Hindutva. And, curiously enough, it is in tiny Goa, where the BJP has somewhat succeeded in
becoming more modern than anywhere in north India.
Ten years ago, the BJP was invisible in Goa. Congress and smaller regional parties like the
United Goan Democratic Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party dominated.
Defections were so astoundingly brazen that never mind the 'Aya Rams' and 'Gaya Rams' of north
India, instead the 'Aya D'Souzas' and 'Gaya D'Souzas' of Goa were responsible for as many as
13 governments in a decade. Since then there has been a cataclysmic change: the BJP has entered
the political scene, after first allying with the MGP and then swallowing it up. And two years
Manohar Parrikar, IIT-educated RSS member, became chief minister of what is fast becoming India's
The armies of rappers, ravers, grinning Gujjubhais and screeching Bongs may not have
recognised a young moustachioed figure posing alongside other BJP chief ministers in the prime
minister's birthday photo. Parrikar is not a Hindu warrior like Uma Bharti or Narendra Modi,
nor is he royal like Vasundhara Raje. Although he is as vulnerable to charges of saffronisation as
any sangh politician, he has, at the same time, brought Goa to a point where its revenue coffers
and electricity are in surplus.
There are many reasons why Goa can be seen as the poster-state for a 'modern' BJP. Parrikar may be
an RSS member, but he cannot, for fear of perennial damage to Goa's international allure
and her 2 million seasonal tourists, ever forget that he leads a republic of fiesta and susegado
(good living). RSS gerontocrats may be furious at bikinis and five star hotels but they can never
forget that it is precisely this that brings in massive revenue, jobs and tourism opportunities
for locals. So while Hindutva gangs in Mumbai can set fire to posters of lesbian movies or disrupt
fashion shows in Nasik, in Goa, hindutva must play second fiddle to the birdie dance.
Moreover, as every lover of Goa knows, the beach parties are a myth. The reality is a traditional
and uniquely spiritual society where the romance with god is far too varied to ever be exclusively
Hindu. This is perhaps the only state so far where the BJP must contend with a large (thirty
per cent Catholic) minority which is sophisticated, powerful and deeply rooted. Behind
the shuttered windows of the great mansions belonging to the venerable old Catholic families
such as the Silva home in Margao or the Figueredo home in Loutolim breathes the spirit of
"delicadeza" (delicacy) and "decencia" (decency).
Hindutva must coexist with the profoundly plural Goan Hinduism of thousands of common customs.
Every wayside shrine, whether a hibiscus under a crucifix or candle outside a shantadurga mandir
roars out its repudiation of bigotry. In villages like Mashem Loliem, Dassehra processions stop at
the homes of only certain Brahmins and certain Christians. In villages like Siolim (Remo
Fernandez' village), jagor (folk) music is played by both communities and Hindus perform 'teatre',
drama traditionally associated with Christians.
Folk humanist Christianity and gentle festive Hinduism have coexisted for so long that they
have formed their own canon. Sure, the two worlds barely touch, there's hardly any inter-marriage
and a fair degree of competitiveness. Yet running through the 'communidad' of every village,
surrounding the common kuladevatha (village deity) shrines and rising upward to the palm
trees, is the whispered conviction: "Ami Bhau" (We are brother).
Parrikar has been accused of saffronising primary school education. Reports say that village
schools have been forced to close and then handed over to RSS-backed organisations. There are
reports that he has also encouraged the saffronisation of the school syllabus, that
textbooks written by the Goa examination board are advancing an anti-Christian, anti-Muslim
mentality. The RSS is reportedly active among the Kunbi Velip tribes through the Girivasi Sammelan
schemes. Yet there is also the inescapable fact that any one seeking to win elections in Goa
simply cannot afford to play an anti-minority card. This is because out of 40 assembly
constituencies, 9 are majority Christian constituencies and are located in the Christian
heartland of Salcette as are several other constituencies in north Goa, or Bardez, in the
Calangute Baga area. A shared history of suffering under the Portuguese means that no
politician who pits communities against each other can hope to win votes.
There is yet another reason why aggressive Hindutva cannot succeed in Goa. And this is the
Konkani language. Konkani binds Hindu and Christian in an irreversible bond. Konkani is
much more than just a language: it stands for the Goan way of life and it is the language that the
Goans fought for against the waves of Marathi-speakers from the north. The BJP's
"aryan" Hindutva is seen by many as a covert attempt to impose Marathi and declare it as an
official language and any administrative agenda that attacks Konkani is doomed to disaster. The
defence of Konkani, so dear to every Goan, is also a defence of Goan plurality.
Manohar Parrikar may be an RSS cadre but Goa will never let him become Narendra Modi. His people
are too scornful of narrow-mindedness, far too close to each other's lives to be torn asunder by
vicious politics. No wonder Parrikar has turned his attention to sound financial management,
roads, an excellent social security scheme for the aged, agro-based industries and subsiding
exports. In Goa, the BJP has been made more tolerant, more development-oriented, far more
careful about nasty rhetoric and thus more modern than anywhere else in India. Of course, your
humble columnist still doesn't know whether the sangh parivar will ever be cool enough to invite
to a beach party, but, hey, didn't Uma Bharti recently say she wanted Madhya Pradesh to become
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