By late afternoon, March 6, a local English daily, Herald, distinctly anti-Congress from the word go, brought out a special double-spread edition with the massive and somewhat colourful headline: ‘Goa Sacks Congress’ – ‘Goa’ in black, ‘Sacks’ in flaming orange, and ‘Congress’ in bright green.
The paper, largely read by Roman Catholic voters owned as it is by a fellow Catholic, cloaked its true affiliations under the guise of being the peoples’ voice against the illegal mining scams that erupted with the arrival of the Shah Commission enquiry and, indeed, by highlighting the widespread government corruption that’s been growing since the late 80s. Little of course has been said by Goan intellectuals of the paper now being edited by a person who once handled public relations for a mining company and was instrumental in filing a defamation case of 500 crore in Kolkata against an anti-mining activist. If one accepts that realpolitik in Goa pans out like a Marquez novel, it is expected that such obvious contradictions will be glossed over for the somewhat nebulous greater good.
In truth though, it did not need analyst, intellectual, or a self-appointed peoples’ voice to predict this outcome. If there is any regret at all in the local village squares, or even in the local watering hole with the shutter downed and the back door kept ajar as local wags dissect matters as the results are known, it is that some of the known crooks still won with smiles on their faces, and that tonight, in gratitude for the sycophancy shown to them, they will be throwing lavish parties to celebrate. Most are quite clear that the result does not indicate that the winning side comes to the table smelling of roses with a bouquet given to them by the people of Goa. If anything, this is vinegar pretending to be wine.
Given that over 200 candidates were in the fray, unlike psephologists who come awake after the party is over, those wanting their chairs in Goa knew exactly how many independent candidates to sponsor and how to split the vote as precisely as possible. Barring two or three clear-cut contests, it was the so-called independents that called the shots, either winning against an earlier bully whom everyone was out to get, or, strategically, splitting the vote.
There are those in Goa, fuelled more by hope than realism, who will no doubt mention that the voter turnout was much higher than ever before and that this hints, on the face of it, of the whiff of change. There are others, understanding the complicity at work as Goans barter among themselves how best to profit out of what’s left of Goa, who read the verdict for what it is, a vote of disgust, grabbing the last straw and putting the school bully in his place when he can’t see you hit him.
In many cases, perhaps even a vote of utter helplessness. Whom do you vote for when every single one of the candidates is tainted?
In the Talukas bordering the Western Ghats on the eastern borders for instance, where winning and losing candidates both openly backed the continuation and streamlining of ‘legal’ mining operations that have already removed huge tracts of forest cover and destroyed springs and other water bodies, those dependent on the land for their livelihood scratched their heads with the paucity of choice given to them.
Their sons, the bulk of them school drop-outs willing to accept money from the mining companies in exchange for a uniform, perhaps the down payment for a motorcycle, and, more importantly, their silence, milked the gravy train for what it was worth; taking money from each candidate to attend rallies, organizing tennis-ball 20-over tournaments with huge prize money every weekend for the last month and a half, and finally voting for the candidate living closest to them – the argument being they wouldn’t have to travel too far should they have reason to meet him with their complaints.
Not everyone in Goa would be that naive. What does one make of the incident related to me last night of a young 22 year old woman who works in a call centre in Margao, who made a cool 8,000 rupees attending rallies and then, peevishness at its best, stayed at home on polling day? How many more like her? How many more like the young Goan adivasis who take money, and then out of some sense of honesty, vote for someone as corrupt but more accessible?