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Goa election 2017: In saffron vs saffron fight, why this man makes BJP see red

Opposition in disarray in the state, but the ruling party’s threat lies within .

india Updated: Jan 18, 2017 23:13 IST
Aman Sethi
Former RSS Goa leader Subhash Velingkar addresses a press conference in Panaji.
Former RSS Goa leader Subhash Velingkar addresses a press conference in Panaji.

“I haven’t left the Sangh,” said Subhash Velingkar, as he contemplated his once-intimate, now-sundered, relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). “You could say the Sangh has left me.”

Till August last year, Velingkar was the RSS’s sangh-chalak or state chief for Goa, when he led a 200-strong group of black-flag waving protesters to a convention addressed by Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Days later, Velingkar was expelled from the organisation he had joined 55 years ago as a fresh-faced 13-year-old.

“Manohar Parrikar (former Goa chief minister, and now defence minister) and the BJP betrayed us,” Velingkar said. “When we voiced our anger, the Sangh leadership prostrated itself before political power.”

By September 2016, Velingkar, a retired headmaster possessed by boundless energy, began talks with the Shiv Sena. In October he launched his own party called the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM). By January this year, Velingkar had allied with the Shiv Sena, and former BJP ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), to spawn a most unlikely political creature: an “anti-BJP saffron alliance.”

In 2012, the BJP won Goa by the slenderest of majorities – 21 of 40 seats. Now, as the state goes to polls afresh on February 4, the political scene is enlivened by the sight of a rogue pracharak taking his former bedfellows to task.

“Velingkar’s alliance is unlikely to win many seats, but they can damage the BJP by splitting the vote in key contests,” said Derek Almeida, editor of The Goan newspaper. “The MGP is looking to expand beyond its base in Ponda, while Velingkar still has support amongst the RSS rank and file.”

One morning at his frugal home in Panaji, Velingkar said the main reason for his revolt was the BJP government’s refusal to stop funding to private primary schools in which the medium of instruction is English, rather than Konkani or Marathi.

In 2012, the ruling Congress party overturned a two-decade old policy and extended state funding to private English language primary schools. The decision found support among parents who wanted to educate their children in English, but was condemned by opposition parties and native language associations organised under Velingkar’s Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM).

The BJP promised to reverse the decision if it won, and swept to power. In 2013, the BJP government declared it would not support any new English-language primary schools, but 139 English-language primary schools, classified as minority institutions, would continue to be funded.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh split in Goa throws the fight for saffron support wide open. (AP file photo)

“Those 139 schools are the gift of the Congress government,” said Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar in an interview. “We have extended grants to 94 new primary schools, none of which is English (medium).”

Velingkar said he was infuriated by this compromise. “Language is the root of culture. We cannot have primary education in English,” he said. “In 2012, we campaigned for Congress hatao, now we will say BJP hatao.”

If Velingkar insists he fighting the BJP on a matter of principle, the motivations of his ally, the MGP, are less apparent. The MGP was part of the BJP-led regime in Goa, but withdrew its support after Parsekar dropped two of its ministers — Sudin Dhavalikar and Dipak Dhavalikar. The MGP has been part of every single Goa government — BJP or Congress — since 1998.

“Sometimes you have be a Chanakya to survive,” said Sudin Dhavalikar, insisting that he opposed the BJP compromise on the medium of instruction issue from the beginning.

“We made our opposition clear, but we were overruled,” he said, “Now the people of Goa want their state to be run by a son of the soil, and language is a very important issue.”

Both the BJP and the MGP indicated they were open to the prospect of an alliance after the elections, yet the terms of this coalition are likely to be dictated by each party’s poll numbers.

“Anything is possible in cricket and politics,” said senior BJP leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari at a press conference in Panaji in response to a question on a post-poll alliance with the MGP.

Sudin Dhavalikar said he could consider taking on the BJP as a junior partner on the condition that he would be made Goa chief minister. Velingkar, however, said he would have no truck with the BJP.

But what if, like the RSS and the BJP, his newly formed Goa Suraksha Manch is seduced by the prospect of political power? “The answer is simple. I will leave the GSM,” Velingkar retorted.