Earlier this month, Pramod Sawant met with the recently appointed bishop, Fr Sebastião Mascarenhas, at Pilar to felicitate him.
Goa had been honoured by the Catholic priest’s elevation, the chief minister said. (Mascarenhas is the second cleric in his family to become bishop).
Just a year ago, the Goa BJP had notched a victory in the February 2022 election, deploying a polarising campaign for the majority Hindu vote.
Sawant had made it plainly clear that engaging with Salcette (which still has a concentration of Catholic voters in some constituencies) was not on his agenda.
That tune has changed in the chase for the single Lok Sabha seat of South Goa.
The election is still a long way off in 2024. But for a party that has honed itself into a ruthless election fighting machine, as the BJP’s media friends love to crow about, every seat counts.
A win in South Goa is also important for the perception that the saffron party’s influence and acceptability is growing across a diverse segment of voters.
Who knows, the BJP could even decide to unleash the currently unattached Churchill Alemao as its candidate.
After the Congress turncoat Aleixo Sequeira’s backstabbing of his party, his voters, his God and his sworn affidavit for profit (the promised Cabinet seat yet to come), anything’s possible.
Social media was littered over Christmas with photographs and posts of BJP ministers engaging in kiss-and-hug bonhomie with several non-BJP Catholic politicians seen to hold a personal vote bank.
The scripted outreach played out soon after the party’s CT Ravi’s pit stop in Goa just before Christmas.
Sawant is famously given to parroting the BJP line on Nehru and occasionally threatening to restore temples destroyed by the Portuguese.
The implied target is quite clear: “Christianity was forced upon with religious fervour by the Portuguese during the period of the ‘Inquisition’ with wide scale destruction of temples… Most of Goa’s churches were built on the very site of former temples,” the Goa government’s website (https://www.goa.gov.in/what_to_see/churches/) says, even as it peddles the “magnificent churches” as a must-see tourist attraction).
However, this December, he was particularly effusive with his Christmas cheer, stepping in to lunch with Churchill and family, stopping by for a photo-op with AAP MLAs Venzy Viegas and Cruz Silva, and a quick hug with Aleixo under the Christmas tree.
The Rane couple Vishwajit and Deviya, now full-fledged RSS devotees, were tasked with personally conveying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Christmas greetings to Cardinal Ferrão.
Particularly intriguing was Rohan Khaunte’s move to liaise with parish priests of Saligao, Merces, Porvorim and Pilar churches, bearing the gift of Modi@20: Dreams Meet Delivery, a compilation of essays contributed by union ministers Amit Shah, S Jaishankar, actor Anupam Kher and Sudha Murthy, among others.
The book “attempts a definitive and expansive exploration into the fundamental transformation of Gujarat and India over the last twenty years due to Modi’s unique model of governance", said its publisher Rupa.
At its launch in May last year, Shah said Modi@20 would “rise to become the equivalent to the Gita for those who believe in the path of building a complete persona”.
Another neo-convert to the Sangh (or possibly a long-time closet one), Khaunte reasoned probably that Catholic priests in particular merited an education on the “complete persona” of the prime minister and his stellar and unique model of governance.
It was under Modi’s watch that the 84-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy was incarcerated and charged under the severe Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,1967 with 15 other human rights activists for an “anti-national conspiracy” in the Bhima Koregao case.
The terminally ill priest, denied even a sipper by the jail authorities when his condition deteriorated, died on July 5, 2021.
In a statement after his death, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the US government “to hold the Indian government accountable and to raise religious freedom concerns in the US-India bilateral relationship”.
More recently, The Washington Post reported, “For months, Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest, claimed his innocence in courts and pleaded for medical care, but Indian authorities denied him bail.
He died at a hospital in July 2021 after spending more than eight months in jail on terrorism charges.
“Now, an examination of an electronic copy of his computer by Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, concludes that a hacker infiltrated his device and planted evidence, according to a new report by the company. The analysis is more proof that Swamy and his co-defendants were framed in a case that exemplifies the Indian government’s crackdown against civil society and prominent critics, the defence team says.”
A crisis of survival Goa now faces over the Mhadei.
But rather than confront it, and urgently brainstorm for a solution in the interest of the state, in a bizarre display of political self-preservation, our ruling elites—the Vishwajits, the Rohans, the Mauvins, the Sudins and the rest — chose to genuflect before the 72-year-old head of the RSS, who says he wants to “unite society” yet rarely chooses to rein in the mobs.
The least Goa’s entitled ruling class could have done is to implore Mohan Bhagwat to use his influence with the Prominent Two at the Centre on the Mhadei case.
Apart from being made even more politically insignificant with their defection, what have the eight Congress turncoats achieved? Aleixo may at some point be squeezed into the Cabinet.
But he and the rest will always be remembered as defectors, backstabbers, turncoats, betrayers, persons not worthy of an ounce of trust… however many “Happy feast!” WhatsApp forwards they share. They leave behind a legacy of lies and deceit.
Not a happy legacy for their children to inherit.