Francis D’Souza, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Urban Development Minister in the Manohar Parrikar government in Goa, does not mince words when he says that alcohol and beef can never be banned in the state. The five-time MLA from Mapusa, and former deputy chief minister in the last BJP government, is proud that it is the Goan-Portuguese heritage that gives his state its liberal, inclusive outlook. Dismissive of his party’s attempts to bring Hindutva into the state, D’Souza says that it will be rejected outright by the people.
Though D’souza once claimed that he was a “Christian Hindu”, he does wince when reminded about how his party bypassed him to make his Hindu colleague the chief minister even though he was next in line for the job.
Sitting at his residence atop a hill overlooking Mapusa town, D’souza is candid about the fate of Goa’s uniqueness in the face of Hindutva onslaught, and about outsiders swamping the state. Excerpts:
Do you believe Parrikar’s fear of girls drinking beer is misplaced?
I don’t think Parrikar was being critical of girls drinking beer, nor was he saying he’s against them drinking. All he said was that girls drinking alcohol is a new area of concern. The chief minister was addressing the state youth parliament and he expressed his anxiety that today’s youngsters are crossing all limits.
But BJP and Hindutva groups are keen to ban alcohol in public places?
Alcohol cannot be banned in Goa because drinking is part of our culture. It is traditional to drink at birthdays, weddings, funerals. I don’t drink alcohol and it is a personal choice, but I would never impose a ban on others. By saying everything is bad – from Valentine’s Day to drinking – do they want people to be ascetics when they themselves are not ascetics? If the BJP tries to ban alcohol, it will never succeed here.
What about banning beef?
It is also impossible to ban beef in Goa because Parrikar knows that Catholics eat beef, as do Muslims. It is an essential part of our cuisine, our food culture. You cannot ban beef overnight. However, Goa was one of the first states to ban cow slaughter but there is no restriction in getting it from other states. No Goan will be fanatical about banning beef, it can never happen here.
Is it because the minority BJP government today has 13 legislators, out of which seven are Catholics, and six are Hindus? You are in a majority even as a minority community?
We were seven Catholic BJP candidates, and we all won. Only six Hindu candidates out of 17 won. However, it has nothing to do with Catholic dominance in the legislature, the BJP has to respect Catholic sentiment, we do not force anything on the government. Even when I was the sole Catholic MLA, the BJP has always respected minority sentiments.
Your alliance partner, the Goa Forward Party, also won on the Catholic vote.
Yes, Vijay Sardesai’s party won all his three seats after making pro-Catholic promises, also on an anti-BJP sentiment; and the community voted in full strength. The Catholics may feel wronged, but it is not illegal.
Do you agree with Goa town and country planning minister Vijai Sardesai’s outburst that Goa must not allow ‘low-end tourists’ and that North Indian tourists are ‘scum‘ who are trying to ‘create a Haryana in Goa’?
I think the word “scum” has a different connotation to “low-end” tourists, he should not have used the term. However, Goa is not just about beaches, drinking and parties. It has attracted many film festivals and intellectual festivals, much like the just concluded Difficult Dialogues 2018. These policy dialogues on gender, street children, are good for students and youth, and the organisers must encourage more interaction with Goa University etc.
But there is a climate of fear and hate in the state. There have been incidents of cow vigilantes attacking alleged beef carriers.
The few incidents are there perhaps to send the message outside that there is vigilance and surveillance. But local Hindus, Christians and Muslims have no problem. It is the outsiders who have migrated to Goa who bring their different cultures and ideas.
Where do most migrants come from?
They come from Gujarat, Rajasthan, neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka, from all over the country. Migrants constitute almost 40% of the population; they have voter IDs and cards. Goans are threatened demographically as a people. They bring their culture, our culture is slightly different. Hindus are less communal in Goa than the rest of India. It makes us different.
Are you saying the BJP’s Hindutva project of banning beef, alcohol, outsiders; and compulsory yoga and singing Vande Mataram in schools, does not work in Goa?
Is it working in the rest of India? They’ve tried to bring Hindutva here but it cannot work as we are a unique culture, we do not believe that singing and doing yoga is a sign of loyalty to the nation. We’ve not enforced it in our schools, but we sing it after our party meetings. You cannot terrorise people in the name of religion or in the name of emotions, sentiment, and culture.
But it was Laxmikant Parsekar, a hand-picked RSS worker, who pipped you even though you were next in line for the top job? Did your religion come in the way?
Possibly so, I was, after all, the logical successor. But I cannot say as I cannot read their minds. But I do know that the reason I did not become chief minister was because I did not get the support of all MLAs. I was holidaying in the UK when the vacancy fell, I came back to campaign but the deal was done.
Do you believe as a Catholic, you may not get a chance?
I have not got a chance till now. I have no great hope for the future also.
Vrinda Gopinath is a senior journalist.