Government instability, rampant corruption in the mining sector and tourism reforms are a few concerns that the AAP hopes to address if they come to power in Goa.
Panaji: Fifty-three year-old Elvis Gomes, AAP’s chief ministerial candidate for Goa, could be a clone of party founder Arvind Kejriwal. Like the Delhi chief minister, he began his career as a government officer and quit citing corruption, nepotism and political interference in governance and administrative matters. Although Gomes joined AAP almost immediately after resigning from the government, being disruptive and challenging has marked his government stint, with him successfully taking the government to court on several issues. Gomes’ entry into politics may have been late, just four months before the state goes to the polls and being declared the chief ministerial candidate only a month ago, yet he has been travelling to constituencies with door-to-door campaigns, meeting people. But with so many splinter political groups in the fray, the soft-spoken Gomes needs to be more forceful and raucous. In a freewheeling interview, Gomes talks about the political instability that rocks Goa, corruption and even the Catholic Church.
Arvind Kejriwal has just asked if the election commission is an independent body in Goa. You have accused the state’s anti-corruption bureau of victimisation for having slapped you with an FIR on charges of corruption. Is there a litany of accusations flying here?
The charges are complete nonsense. The FIR charges are spurious [Gomes, as managing director of the Goa Housing Board is alleged to have converted the land use of 30,000 square metres from ‘orchard’ to ‘settlement’] but they are accusing me of something that occurred two months before I got posted to the housing board. I had filed a criminal writ petition in the high court challenging the FIR and the court has found no grounds for the allegation. In fact, the court has directed the Goa police to present itself before framing charges on my case. Now, why would the high court give such instructions to the police?
You also went to court challenging the seniority list when you were in the Goa civil service but soon quit to join politics. Can you tell us what exactly happened?
I was in the state service and was up for induction into the IAS but left because I was not happy with the way things were going. I have worked with successive governments, from the Congress to the BJP, from 1998 to 2016, and realised that nothing was going to change. Goa is a small state and maybe it is a disadvantage, where chief ministers and ministers directly interfere in service matters and create heartburn among officers, it happened in my case and also with a few other officers. Of course, no one wants to pick a fight with politicians, but I did – I challenged [Manohar] Parrikar, went to court and won.
So what was the case?
I was the senior-most on the list of inductees to the IAS but was pushed into fourth place in the revised list after Arun Desai, director of transport, was brought in, because Desai’s son is married to BJP transport minister Sudin Dhavlikar’s daughter. Is it any surprise that the transport department is mired in corruption? I challenged the seniority list and won, but left the service too.
So how would you rate the governments you have worked with – Congress-NCP, BJP?
They are all the same and there is absolutely no difference because migration takes place from one party to another all the time.
Goa has seen ten governments in the ten years between 1989 to 1999 and it was only in 2012 that it got a one-party government. Is it looking at another period of instability this election with so many splinter groups?
Yes, 2012 was a different year because the people were fed up with this kind of aaya Ram, gaya Ram (coming and going) kind of politics and the unprecedented corruption of the Congress that was exposed by then leader of opposition, Manohar Parrikar. And the buildup of expectations was so high that people voted for BJP with a full majority. But in five long years, nothing has happened as no action has been taken against any of the scamsters who were accused from rooftops by Manohar Parrikar – and not a single person has been sent to jail.
You mean the Shah Commission report that looked into the mining scam?
Yes, the mining industry is very big over here and is the principle source of livelihood for the people and also revenue for the state, but Parrikar paid no heed to the Supreme Court appointed Shah Commission which submitted a report on the rampant corruption in the industry to the tune of Rs 36,000 crore. The commission documented how illegal mining was done, listed names of several politicians, all under Digambar Kamat, who was Congress chief minister and mining minister, but he never went to jail.
Will AAP re-open the cases if it comes to power?
We will expose the mining scam the moment we are on the chair because transparency matters to us the most. Also, the Shah Commission report must be understood by every Goan, to see the extent by which they have been looted. We must expose the sin of omission on the part of the BJP, the Congress’ successor, which had tom-tommed about taking action, but only wanted electoral success as it did nothing thereafter.
How does AAP plan to counter a very splintered political contest, with so many small political parties all hoping to becoming king-makers in the event of a hung assembly, which looks increasingly probable today?
These political groups and alliances are marriages of convenience with many politicians now at the fag end of their career, trying to see how best they can win.
Yes, they are taking advantage of the small size of the electorate, doing the arithmetic as they know how many people can be bribed and how many votes they can buy. But we have gone into campaign without paying a single person. We’ve had huge rallies with Arvind Kejriwal, attended by people who have come spontaneously without giving them any incentives. AAP is the only party that can change this brand of politics.
Who are you banking on?
The middle class – people who do not rely on government so much – they are fed up that their Goa is going out of their hands and is slipping from under their feet. They feel this slide should be arrested and only AAP can do it because all other players in the market today have been there for 30 to 40 years and Goa has completely gone down the drain.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed demonetisation as a “maha yagna” (cleansing) of the people, but what about a yagna for politicians? How is AAP sourcing its election funds?
We have to raise our own funds in the state but we rely on our big volunteer force to conduct campaigns and rallies. We also collect money at rallies when we pass a box around, our funds come from contributions from people who believe in us.
But a certain disenchantment about AAP has crept in because of the constant fracas in Delhi between the Kejriwal government and the Centre?
Possibly and I do not dispute that fact, but is there any alternative other than the AAP today before the people of Goa? There is nothing new the old parties can offer, there are no new faces – it’s the same old wine in the same old bottle.
So which are your strong constituencies and how does it work?
We started small and we have been growing by the day and now as the elections are coming closer, we are heading for an absolute majority.
I don’t expect you to say anything else but seriously, where do you think the AAP is strong?
Public perception is that we are strong in the south. It is also where I come from, in the Margao area, where the Salcete taluka has eight seats. But now, after Arvind Kejriwal’s meetings in the north, the belief is that our movement has moved north too, as his rallies have been a very great success. There was a time four months ago, when I joined AAP, many people had not heard about AAP and what it was about. But today, there is a difference. Also, both the Congress and BJP are in turmoil – the BJP’s allies like MGP (Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party) have deserted it, including the RSS, whose leader has been screaming about the BJP’s corruption but media does not report it. As for the Congress, it expels a Babush Monserrate, who now has his own party, then has an alliance with him, even as his wife continues to be a Congress MLA. Both parties still believe money and muscle power will work but this time they are in for a shock.
As a former bureaucrat, you are an insider, how do politics and money work in Goa?
For instance, Parrikar in his first term, created the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd, which the Congress continued with to deal with huge infrastructure tenders and contracts – this despite the fact that there is the PWD [public works department], road transport department, etc. The board is controlled by government appointed bureaucrats and you can imagine the damage it has done to the state’s finances. Take the example of the third bridge on Mandovi river – it started at Rs 460 crore – today it has escalated to more than Rs 900 crores. It is a known secret that estimates are inflated and that is where the money comes for the politicians. Or take the take the beach cleaning contracts, where the government appoints contractors which are fictitious companies that do no work as you can see in the garbage-filled coast, but they are still paid and half goes to the ministers.
Would you agree tourism is a big revenue earner for Goa? Is AAP tourism friendly?
Yes it is, but what we have given is dirty tourism and a tourism that has completely changed the image of the state.
The rampant drug abuse, the sale and purchase of drugs – the players are known as there is a link between ministers, police and drug peddlers – so it’s a cozy arrangement. But often, innocent people are caught. I was inspector-general of prisons in my last posting and I have seen users being thrown into jail, like some poor Nigerians. Remember, the Scarlett Keeling case happened because of substance abuse but nobody went into the root cause of it. Instead, the culprits were acquitted because it was alleged that the then home minister Ravi Naik’s son was involved in helping them.
In Goa, there is no protection for tourists especially victims of sexual crimes, as culprits get away because of political patronage.
We are committed in our manifesto to set up special women’s police stations. We will strengthen the police and administrative system. There will be no interference when it comes to implementation of the law, and [there will be] stringent punishment for erring officials – even dismissal and jail.
So is AAP tourism friendly? Your party is dead against the new Mopa airport coming up in north Goa but will you be agreeable if locals are given proper compensation?
Look, governments must have an emotional connect with the people. These are simple people living on that plateau for decades and one fine day, you think of doing an airport and you tell the people, look, the airport will come, and everything will be good for you overnight. This happened earlier and we have not learnt our lessons. When the first hotels came in South Goa, five-star hotels, this was the same story. Everybody was told, look, hotels will come you will not have to do fishing, toddy tapping, climb trees, no farming, life will be good. You will be given jobs, run taxis. People believed but later on neither taxis nor those jobs remained as the greedy hoteliers wanted to run their own taxi services and outsiders were brought in to do the jobs. So, a similar story is getting replicated in the north. What we are saying is, we are not against development but we must maintain the ethnicity of Goa.
Personally, I would not want to go for such mega projects which will lead to complete displacement of the people and make them aliens in their own land because, of the total population of Goa, ethnic Goans are around eight-nine lakhs, the rest of the people have come from outside, another six lakhs. This is not a problem but when you bring these mega projects, the surge in the population from outside will simply destroy the identity and character of Goa and of the local population. Then why would somebody come to Goa at all if it begins to look like any other metro in the country?
The Church and clergy are quite politically active during elections issuing diktats on which party to vote?
I do not see anything wrong in that, it is within their competence and right to do so because the canon law does mandate that it should guide the flock. It’s usually an advisory given to people – their own people – so, if the bishop tells the people to vote for honest candidates there is nothing wrong. But there are aberrations and we have protested when a priest from the Taleigao parish openly canvassed for the lady in question and we complained to the bishop. But such cases are few and far between.
Vrinda Gopinath is a senior journalist.