Mumbai: Language politics is brewing in Goa, stirred by the former state chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) assembling an anti-government platform ahead of assembly elections in early 2017.
For Subhash Velingkar, who was relieved as the Goa Prant chief of RSS in August after he decided to form a new political party to promote local languages Konkani and Marathi, ejecting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that he once supported is priority No.1. He founded Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) in September.
Velingkar still heads RSS affiliate Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM), which he founded before the 2012 assembly elections to promote local languages.
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“As the bigger player in this effort, GSM is bringing together like-minded parties like Shiv Sena, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Praja Party. Right now, the focus is on providing Goa voters a political alternative to the BJP and making sure the BJP loses 2017 elections. So, we are putting aside our differences over language and setting our sight on winning elections," Velingkar said in a phone interview from Goa.
He said the alliance between GSM and Shiv Sena had already been formalised while MGP and Goa Praja Party had joined the alliance talks.
The MGP, which is Goa’s oldest regional party, currently has an alliance with the BJP but the relationship between the two parties has soured after chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar dropped two MGP ministers from his cabinet last week. Parsekar sacked MGP leaders and brothers Sudin and Deepak Dhavalikar after they publicly criticised the government.
A close aide of Dhavalikars, who did not wish to be identified, said the MGP was in talks with GSM for a possible pre-poll alliance against the BJP. “We are holding meetings with our supporters and gauging their mood. We may join the alliance against the BJP if we can provide a credible alternative without compromising on our core ideology that is protection of Goan culture and native languages," said this aide.
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BJP legislator and spokesperson Nilesh Cabral said the MGP had not yet snapped its alliance with BJP. “The two ministers have been dropped because they made a public outburst against the government their party is part of. But the BJP-MGP alliance is an altogether different thing," said Cabral. He, however, conceded the possibility of MGP joining the alliance led by GSM. “They might join GSM," he said.
All these parties exploring an anti-BJP alliance have a common thread – protection of the native languages of Konkani and Marathi from what they see as “government-sponsored promotion of English", according to Velingkar. The MGP, right from its inception, has been an advocate of Marathi getting an equal status as Konkani in Goa.
Velingkar founded BBSM before 2012 elections to demand government grant to elementary schools where medium of instructions is Marathi or Konkani. The BBSM was supported by the BJP—in particular its then chief minister candidate Manohar Parrikar—which promised to end grant to English medium schools if it was voted to power. “But the BJP never honoured this promise and that is why BBSM had to float a political party to take on the BJP," Velingkar said. In August, the RSS relieved Velingkar of his responsibilities as Goa Prant RSS chief to allow him to form GSM. Several RSS workers in Goa joined Velingkar in leaving RSS to work full-time for GSM. The Shiv Sena, a fierce proponent of Marathi, reached out to GSM soon after and announced that it would contest 20 seats in Goa in alliance with GSM.
Velingkar said the MGP had warmed up to GSM even before the two ministers were dropped. “MGP leaders shared stage with us two months back when we asked them to break this unholy alliance with the BJP. It was after this appeal that the MGP consciously started criticising the BJP knowing fully well that it would eventually break the alliance. That is why MGP raised its demand for seats from 9 to 15 knowing well that the BJP would not give them 15 seats," Velingkar said.