Church prefers BJP's Angle than Alemao

SANDESH PRABHUDESAI, PANAJI | 11 October 1999 16:53 IST

No one likes to admit it openly, but a strange thing has happened in Goa this time. For the Lok Sabha polls, the all-powerful Church has given a go for the Bharatiya Janata Party to win, especially in South Goa.

The history of South Goa is unique, primarily because of the Catholic-dominated Salcete taluka consisting of eight out of 21 Assembly segments in the constituency. It overscores the Hindu population spread out in other five talukas. Except the first election of 1963, the seat is always held by a Catholic here.

While the polling figures speak clearly of Catholics voting for the BJP this time, the Church has also surprisingly come out with a startling stand in support of the BJP.

"The BJP has changed and the hard-core Sangh Parivar has a very little say in the Nationalist Democratic Alliance as many secular groups are part of it", says Fr Carmo Martins, the church spokesman.

"I am not aware of the Church supporting us. But I can tell you that many Catholics have voted for us", says Satish Dhond, BJP's state general secretary. His party candidate Ramakant Angle is elected the MP there, defeating the Congress candidate Joaquim Alemao by over 14,000 votes.

Chief minister Luizinho Faleiro however refuses to accept the theory. "May by they did not go to vote or wasted their vote. But they will never vote for the BJP", he claims, dismissing the guess that Congress days are numbered due to a vigorous anti-Congress stand taken by the Church.

But Church apparently does not believe that the ruling party is full of honest people. Focussing on the issue of the allegedly pollutant Meta Strips industrial project, against which people of Salcete have literally waged a war now, Fr Martins also justifies Church supporting the agitating people since it is the human rights issue.

In the past, neither the BJP nor the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, having hold over the Hindu bahujan samaj, could cross 20 per cent in Salcete. Except the Margao town divided into two Assembly segments, the same figure could never cross 10 per cent in other six village-based segments.

But the BJP this time crossed 30 per cent in Salcete while it is over 21 per cent in the rest of the six Catholic bastions, including Navelim, represented by chief minister Faleiro and Benaulim of Churchill Alemao, the candidate's minister brother. The overall turnout in Salcete was also hardly 40 per cent, compared to around 50 per cent in other five talukas.

"People of Salcete expressed their disgust against the Congress by not going to vote", claims Dhond. Even the Congressmen do not deny the fact. It happened in spite of the polling taking place on Sunday. Many people went home straight after the morning mass when the polling booths were just behind the Church.

Fr Martins, though denies that the Church supported the BJP, also does not shy away from admitting that the BJP ultimately benefited from the situation.

"The advantage automatically goes to the BJP when the Congress did not have the honest candidate while Dr Wilfred de Souza, the Nationalist Congress Party candidate, did not even come out to campaign. Adv Uday Bhembre could have been a better candidate for the Congress", he says.

He claims that the Church never supports any particular party. He even calls it a misconception that the priests always campaign for the Congress during elections. "We rightly appeal to the people to vote for the honest candidate who could work for the welfare of the society. Angle is such type of man", he feels.

According to him, the priests also have every right to express their opinion during elections because they are the citizens first and priests later. But he denies the allegation that Church uses its institutional identity to play a political role in Goa.

"No priest should use, misuse or abuse the religious forum for political purpose. They not only propagate falsehood but even instigate violence. Villagers are mobilised for such actions by ringing the Church bells", says the chief minister, recalling the violent incident taken place soon after elections in the port town of Vasco.

With Faleiro openly waging a war against the alleged partisan attitude of the priests while the Church coming out openly against the ruling Congress party, it appears that the traditional political equations may not continue the same way in future. The Lok Sabha election was perhaps just an indicator.

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