The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The sangh parivar fails in both history and imagination

Since their defeat in the parliamentary elections, the BJP seems to be losing one mask a day, and in full public view. The party with a difference ' which was going to lead us to a shining India ' is now back to 'basics': Hindutva, and intimidation of critics, RSS style. For those who have seen through the many masks of the BJP even when they were in power, recent events only confirm the way power-seeking communalists look and behave when they are knocked down. When their much-touted 'patriotism' or their bloodthirsty 'spiritualism' are stripped of their layers of make-up to reveal the real ' and ugly ' faces beneath.

The BJP is no longer in power, and their heroes and heroines know this. In fact, this is what makes their colleagues in power at the state level particularly anxious to push forward their 'vision' of India ' regardless of what this does to their corner of India or the people living there. Goa is a case in point.

My impression of Goa, on my brief visits there, is of a state that colourfully exemplifies the pluralist nature of contemporary Indian reality. As every holidaymaker knows, Goa is a warm and hospitable place with something on offer to every visitor's taste. Unfortunately, this open-armed hospitality seems to have encouraged a particularly obnoxious family to overstay. Goa in the clutches of the sangh parivar is changing into a place many of us would have some trouble recognizing. Much worse, it is in danger of becoming an alien place to the Goans themselves.

In recent times, Goa has been the setting for non-resident stalwarts such as Vajpayee to air their version of double-speak. Much worse are the day-to-day activities of the resident hatemongers who have no time for the nuances of doublespeak. These goons, given to action rather than nitpicking ideology, have been drawing a new and distorted map of Goa ' through their attempts at rewriting history, and their strategy of intimidating all those critical of the BJP state government. Intimidation tactics have, of necessity, to bypass basic democratic norms. This necessity has become even more visible after the BJP's defeat in the parliamentary elections. Now that there is no anxiety to maintain any pretence of being part of a responsible government in power at the Centre, the state government has unleashed its paranoia on anyone who dares to criticize it. These tactics are perfectly in line with the new resolutions of the BJP, post-defeat at the Centre. It seems, alas, appropriate that Advani's call to return to the 'basics' was given in Goa. Consider the recent spate of vandalization in Goa, the attacks and raids on those perceived as critics of the powers that be, or on those seen simply as 'different'. The FDA, for example, carried out raids on the clinic and nursing home of Dr Francisco colaco, one of the co-founders of Lok Shakti, supposedly on receiving a complaint from a woman minus surname and address.

The charges constitute an utter failure of the imagination: the woman charges she found the nurses of the clinic asleep; she also saw 'animals' on the nursing home premises! Of course, while blundering in unfamiliar imaginative territory, the raid-happy authorities forgot some of the basic information they should have been mastering instead: the regulation of nursing homes, particularly when they do not stock drugs, is the responsibility of the directorate of health services and not the FDA.

At about the same time, the FDA also raided the popular Mongini confectionery outlets. These raids were supposedly in response to a complaint by a chai-and-eats shopowner who claimed to have found a cockroach in a Mongini pastry he bought. Apparently, the tea shopowner himself runs a one-room shop swarming with flies and cockroaches. The trouble with the complaint as cause-of-raid theory is that even before the complaint in Vasco, as many as five Mongini outlets across Goa were targeted. The only difference seems to be that when the Vasco outlet was 'raided,' a TV cameraman accompanied the FDA team. And in case anyone should miss seeing the pattern of intimidation and blackmail in vogue in Goa today, these raids were only two instances: there was the example of the CID calling on advocate Bernard D'Souza, a trustee of the Nitoll Jinn Trust, a trust committed to fighting corruption at all levels of bureaucracy and government. There was also the case of the attack on Mapusa hotelier (and Congress block president) Mathew Braganza. That the vandalism in Braganza's hotel was no accident was innocently revealed by the law minister, Francis D'Souza, in an interview: he was very clear that the decision to hold a protest march against Mathew Braganza was taken at a meeting of the BJP at which the chief minister was present.

Side by side with such tactics to silence criticism is the familiar attempt to rewrite history. Having learnt its history at the feet of absentee physics professor, Murli Manohar Joshi, the sangh parivar in Goa has been working hard to invent a new Goan history, a history in which all traces of Portuguese colonial influence is erased. Simply put, it appears that for the RSS and its ilk in Goa, the link between 'Portuguese culture' and Goa today is Christianity. It's the same old song of intolerance. The same old longing for an India with one 'pure', homogeneous identity.

It is this longing that is behind the frequent vandalization of other identities or symbols of such identities. For example: the Tonca Pillar and the name plaques on the walls of residences at Mala and some other places were vandalized on Goa Revolution Day. Local residents confirm there were police present, but this did not stop the vandals from going about their destructive work with sledgehammers. The government's reaction to calls for an investigation of the incident and the arrest of the culprits is that there have been no 'complaints' lodged by citizens. Again, these miscreants have been changing street names they disapprove of, bypassing not only the wishes of residents, but also the city corporation and standard legal procedure. In other words, there have been a series of vandalisms and acts of cultural censorship, all of which spring from the ideology that spurred chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, to declaim at a convention: 'We will take care of our own Heritage and our own Heritage Buildings.'

It's a little difficult to unravel and throw out varied cultural legacies, whether from the colonial period or any other period of history, so entangled are they in a complex, many-stranded society. To demand now that 'Goan culture' should 'cleanse' itself of the usual give-and-take transactions that occur in any colonial encounter is not only bad history; it is not going to make the lives of Goans today any better. In fact, the consensus among those proud to be Goans seems to be that the sangh parivar's tactics are reminiscent of the worst days of the Portuguese colonial regime, and that the chief minister himself recalls Salazar at his worst. But for those who fail on history as well as imagination, irony is not exactly a high-premium commodity.

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