Over the last few weeks, the BJP-led government in Goa has hit headlines for all the wrong reasons, be it Goa’s deputy CM Francis D’Souza’s “all Indians are originally Hindus” or Minister Sudin Dhavalikar’s comments against women wearing bikinis on Goa’s beaches.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had on Wednesday assured the state Assembly that the government will ban right-wing fundamentalist group Sri Ram Sene and that it would not be allowed to set up office in the state. Is the Parrikar government buckling under pressure?
According to Independent MLA Vijai Sardesai, who has led the Opposition in the state assembly, Parrikar’s move to ban the Sri Ram Sene in the state was a mere eyewash and its larger aim was to polarise voters in the state.
“They are all from the sameparivar. They are trying to polarise the voters. Pramod Muthalik is being given way more importance than he deserves for his credibility. His criticism of Parrikar is just to fool Goans,” Sardesai said, adding that “Goa has always had communal harmony and such moves of late were only to disturb the social fabric.”
The BJP-government’s move to officially ban the group came after its leader Pramod Muthalik announced that he will begin operations in the tourist-friendly state. There were also inputs from intelligence agencies, according to Parrikar, claiming that there could be a threat to the social fabric of the state.
“I had asked police to prepare a report and it was sent to the collector to ban the entry of Shri Ram Sene in the state. We have banned Shri Ram Sene,” Parrikar said.
The Congress, however, is not impressed by Parrikar’s move. Speaking to Firstpost, party president John Fernandes said instead of a state-imposed ban, Muthalik should be detained under the National Security Act for trying to divide the country on communal lines.
“Where is the order stating that Ram Sene has been banned? Until we see the order on paper, we will not accept it… this government is famous for its U-turns, we have seen the same with the junket issue during the World Cup,” Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat told Firstpost.
The Congress will also demand in the House that Parrikar table papers supporting his claim that the government has indeed banned the organisation.
“We cannot trust this man… He is an IIT chief minister, but I think even an anpadhman would do a better job, I will ask him to table documents in the House today,” Congress MLA Alexio Reginaldo told Firstpost.
Reacting to the ban, a furious Mukthalik told local daily O Herald that he would approach the RSS against Parrikar as his move was unconstitutional.
“The move (by Parrikar) is unconstitutional and we will go to the court to seek justice. I am not aware if the Goa government has banned me or the Sri Ram Sene. Parrikar is not managing the Bharatiya Janata Party, but under the influence of Christians, he is turning it into a Bharatiya Jesus Party,” he said.
“This has been done at the behest of the Nigerian and pub mafia. Anti-nationals are allowed to come in the state but a patriot is banned. The Sene will approach a court to get the ban lifted so that it can start activities here,” he told PTI, adding, “I am sure I will get justice.”
O Herald also quoted Muthalik as saying: “If Parrikar claims to be a Hindutva-wadi, how can he ban a person like me, who has devoted his life to conserve Hindu culture?”
The BJP, welcoming the move by Parrikar, said Pramod Muthalik has not been banned at an individual level and that it was a ban only on the organisation. “He is free to enter the state for his individual work, we have not banned him from entering the state… it’s the organisation that has been banned,” Vinay Tendulkar, state BJP president, toldFirstpost.
In fact, in June this year, the state BJP unit categorically stated that the party would not allow the organisation to be banned as the Constitution allows anyone to set up office anywhere in the country.
Party leader Wilfred Mesquita had said: “We will not ban Sri Ram Sene from entering the state. We can’t ban it unless the organisation is found to be involved in activities against the law.”
But now Tendulkar says that the sudden change in position by the BJP came after inputs from the Collectorate that Ram Sene could pose a threat to the minorities in the state.
On Muthalik’s remarks that the BJP was appeasing Christians in the state, Tendulkar said that the BJP-government was secular and that no section of society would be treated specially.
“We have no reason to consult the RSS. Let Muthalik go to them if he wants to or even to the Supreme Court. This is the government’s decision and we stand by it,” Tendulkar said.
With Goa’s tourism season set to begin, statements by Muthalik as well as ministers in Parrikar’s own government had international tour operators worried, forcing the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) to get an assurance from authorities that no such steps – whether to ban bikinis along Goa’s beaches, or prevent women ‘dressed inappropriately’ from entering pubs in Goa – would be taken.
“We had a lot of inquiries coming in from international tour operators as these remarks did make news in the press internationally, but it will not impact our tourism… Parrikar’s step to ban the Ram Sene from entering Goa was an excellent move… he should also take action against his own ministers who shoot from the hip,” Ralph De Souza, spokesperson for TTAG told Firstpost.
“We agree with the Church’s statement that when visiting religious places you should be appropriately dressed.. but no complete ban on bikinis can happen… this is the view point of a party that just has 3 MLAs in a House of 40.”
Parrikar’s decision to ban the Ram Sene from entering the state would only make sense once authorities actually take action against such elements who pose a threat to the communal harmony of the state — or else it will remain a purely symbolic move aimed at curtailing PR damage to the state.
While the Opposition has dismissed it as a mere eyewash, the BJP government will have to do a lot more if it is serious about curtailing any such moral policing organisations, be it the Ram Sene, or even Parrikar’s own ministers, from making such provocative remarks.