As elections to the state near, the hardliners think the BJP is being too soft on the church and its educational policies.
The decision of the RSS to sack its Goa chief Subhash Velingkar and the unprecedented revolt that it has triggered in the Sangh’s ranks there have created ripples far beyond the state. Never before has a rebellion of this scale occurred in the organisation that prides itself on its discipline – not surprisingly, the headquarters is scrambling to clarify the situation.
Beneath the surface are the many-layered dimensions of a major political battle to control this cosmopolitan state and reshape the BJP’s image for the future.
While media circles are still abuzz with the decoding of signals from these latest developments, the move indicates the extent to which political pragmatism will dictate the BJP’s strategy for Goa, even at the cost of alienating its ideological core, as the elections, due in March 2017, come closer. To quote a miffed local parivar man: “It seems RSS leaders have fallen prey to the glamour of power.”
Power, obviously, is at the heart of the matter. Presented with a real shot at it in Goa on its own in 2012, following the Congress’ baggage of scandals – mining, corruption, casinos – the BJP struck a deal with the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM), a pressure group formed by Velingkar in 2011, to force a change in the Congress government’s medium of instruction (MoI) policy.
On its part, the BBSM – which the BJP publicly endorsed with Manohar Parrikar and others joining its dharnas – agreed to tone down its aggressive stance against the government grants to English medium primary schools (the majority of them run by the Catholic Church), to help Parrikar ride to power in Goa. Votes in largely Catholic constituencies were crucial to tilting the scales in the BJP’s favour and they wouldn’t have countenanced any change in the MoI policy. For the first time, all five of the saffron party’s minority (Christian) candidates sailed through. With elections once again in the offing, the BJP wants to be seen as a moderate on the issue.
But to view Goa’s English education debate (medium of instruction or MoI issue in local parlance) through the narrow prism of Catholics vs Hindus, or as a Church vs Sangh dispute, is to concede to the specious right-wing propaganda. In fact, the state government statistics for 2015-16 say it all. The government runs 800 primary schools in Goa, a vast majority (720) in Marathi. Less than half that number – 390 – are run by trusts, some of which are supported heavily by government funding. After the Congress government lifted the ban on grants to English medium primary education in 2011, the Church switched all its 127 schools from Konkani to English. The move caused an exodus from regional language primaries to English medium. Almost twice the number of students – 55,000 – went to English primaries as those that enrolled in Marathi and Konkani this year. Some government schools grind on with less than four students a class.
The Church has argued that its decision was compelled by pressure from parents, most of whom cannot afford expensive, privately run English schools. Fr. Zeferino D’Souza, secretary Diocesan Society of Education makes the point that the majority of students in church-run schools are non-Catholic. “Our schools do not cater to our community alone,” he says.
Though the BBSM has drawn its ground strength from Velingkar’s RSS roots – he is the founder of the Sangh in Goa – it has also managed to rope in former Congressman Uday Bhembre and retired IAS man Arvind Bhatikar. The pressure group’s belligerence has been particularly shrill against the Church which it has accused of “denationalising” Catholics all over again post the Liberation. Coming from members whose own grandchildren either live abroad or go to English primaries, the censure rings like pure hypocrisy. Drumming up such acrimony was something the BJP could ill afford before the next election, and the party went so far as suggesting that Velingkar had probably lost his mental balance.
A swirl of theories are currently afloat about Velingkar’s next move, with one holding that his threat to form a party to counter the BJP – read Parrikar – in Goa may actually have the backhand approval of the RSS. Velingkar has said he is not leaving the RSS; he only wants the Goa prant (district) not to report to the regional Konkan branch of the RSS, but directly to Nagpur; this has never happened before and Nagpur has not yet given its blessings. The local RSS unit is in the midst of a storm as it tries to digest this open defiance.
Starting out as a schoolteacher in the early 80s, Velingkar excelled in more than educational outreach in rural Goa. The Sangh man went about quietly setting up shakhas and indoctrinating young minds. Among his earliest sangh protégés were Parrikar, Laxmikant Parsekar (currently Goa CM), Rajendra Arlekar (state minister) and Sripad Naik (central minster).
Which is why the Sangh’s decision to cut him loose for political expediency is being seen here as a hurtful betrayal of one of its most dedicated. Those days have long gone; today Velingkar publicly berates the defence minister and his alleged betrayal. The man who was once part of Parrikar’s inner circle of advisers, is known for intemperate language (calling Parrikar “a liar” after a falling out over MoI).
Velingkar’s departure and the peeved resignations of some 300 Sanghis here may cost the BJP a swarm of dedicated foot soldiers. But in the context of the larger political frame, Parrikar – who calls the shots in all matters of the BJP in Goa – has obviously come to view him more as a liability, standing in the way of projecting the BJP as an ‘inclusive’ party for a culturally diverse Goa. With elections to the 40-member state assembly just five months away, the BJP can hardly afford to disturb the status quo on MoI and antagonise the influential Catholic Church. Velingkar’s tactics, such as defacing boards in Portuguese, are not likely to please the BJP in the run up to the elections.
Elections are obviously on the minds of other parties too. The otherwise saffron MGP (Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party) also seems put off by Velingkar’s belligerence. Run by the Dhavlikar brothers Sudin and Deepak, whose wives are members of the Sanatan Sanstha, the MGP cold-shouldered the BBSM’s offer of political backing and has mocked its move to form a party.