Panaji, Oct. 2: Gandhi Jayanti was a holiday everywhere in the country, except Goa.
Government employees and students in the BJP-ruled state trudged to work and school as usual, but only for a couple of hours — to participate in a cleanliness drive.
The Manohar Parrikar government had earlier announced plans to scrap the Gandhi Jayanti holiday, leading to an outcry.
Buckling under public pressure, the state revised its stand and said that while government employees and school students would compulsorily have to put in their attendance, they were required to be present for only a couple of hours. In place of the regular work, they would have to join the cleanliness drive.
“It is just the sadistic pleasure of the chief minister,” former state Congress president and ex-MP Shantaram Naik said.
“Because of the BJP’s hatred for the Mahatma, they wanted to cancel the public holiday in Goa. But because of the public reaction, they had to restore it. The ego of the chief minister would not allow him to admit he was bowing to pressure,” Naik said.
Earlier, there was widespread debate over whether a state government could cancel a national holiday.
“There are so many holidays, perhaps too many. But why target the day of the Father of the Nation'” asked freedom fighter Naguesh Karmali.
Shambu B. Bandekar, a former Congress deputy Speaker and president of the local Dalit Sanghatana, said: “The BJP government (in Goa) wants to cancel the Gandhi Jayanti holiday. Our question is: do they propose to declare a holiday on Nathuram Godse’s birth anniversary'”
But the chief minister has defended the move, arguing that the two-hour cleanliness drive was a fitting tribute to the memory of Gandhi.
Together with October 2, Parrikar has also targeted the holiday on May 30 — celebrated here as Goa Statehood Day — the anniversary of its graduation from Union Territory to a state.
Classes used to be suspended for a week from October 3 in Kerala — both under Congress and communist governments — so that students could participate in civic projects like street-sweeping and garbage cleaning. But pressures of curriculum forced the burial of the programme in the mid-eighties.
The BJP, which has been ruling Goa since October 2000 and at present heads a coalition government, has earlier drawn flak for naming individuals linked to the Sangh parivar to key government bodies and top posts.
It has also come under attack for a mystery fire at a small mosque, attempted arson at a couple of Christian places of worship, an attempt to “communalise” a film on Goa’s anti-colonial struggle, funding an RSS front organisation after the Gujarat earthquake and efforts to “saffronise” committees working on education.