Controversy is no stranger to Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate, the independent legislator from Goa, who was arrested on Thursday after a 16-year-old Nepali girl alleged that he raped her a month ago.
The teenager alleged that the MLA from Santa Cruz had bought her from her stepmother and another woman known to her for Rs 50 lakh. He allegedly spiked her drink. "The next morning, I woke up without my clothes, covered in blood," she told the authorities. "He was sitting without his clothes on."
Monserrate told journalists that the allegations are a frame-up. He claimed that the teenager had been a staffer at a lifestyle store he owned. The politician said that had employed the girl at the request of her mother, but she had been sacked for allegedly misappropriating funds from the store.
Earlier this week, newspapers reported that the girl, who landed up in the state reformation home, told child welfare authorities that she had been sexually assaulted by the legislator. This triggered a speedy investigation in Goa’s heated political climate in which Monserrate was manoeuvering to be a key player.
Eye on 2017
Despite being an unaffiliated legislator, Monserrate is no political lightweight. In March, Monserrate upstaged the Bharatiya Janata Party on its home turf in Goa’s capital city of Panjim, as his panel swept the municipal polls. The flamboyant politician was set to take over a dormant regional party later this month, with the view to contesting the 2017 state polls.
During the last state elections in 2012, he had prevailed upon the Congress to give both him and his wife tickets; they won in neighboring segments. But the Congress expelled him in 2015 for helping the BJP during the Panjim bypoll, a seat that Manohar Parrikar gave up when he moved to the Centre to become defence minister. In recent months, Monserrate had signalled his desire to contest the Panjim assembly seat in 2017, which is now held by the BJP.
In political circles it was widely known that he was aiming to net in several more seats in the Tiswadi taluk, which could damage both the Congress and the BJP.
Monserrate’s 14-year political career has seen him flit between the Congress and the BJP, adroitly steering between both, to keep his political and economic enterprises going. His rise in politics has been synchronous with the growing urbanisation in the state and the construction boom in and around prized Panjim suburbs. Property rates in this peninsular seafront area are the highest in Goa. In this time, several luxury hotels and gated residences have emerged in the area that has come to be called the Beverly Hill of Goa.
The politician hails from one of the larger land owning families in the Taleigao area here, and has been especially enterprising in his property dealings.
Monserrate’s political rise was as meteoric as his economic one. In 2002, ousting his Congress mentor from the Taleigao seat, the first-time legislator ran under the banner of the regional United Goan Democratic Party. He supported the Bharatiya Janata Party's effort to form a government and landed the critical Town and Country Planning portfolio under Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. The politician joined the BJP in 2004, but departed in 2005 and brought down the government.
Since then, he has acquired something of a notorious reputation in Goa’s political games, which are often linked to internecine turf wars over real-estate projects since a great many of the state’s legislators are involved in property development.
In 2007, Monserrate was the target of a citizens' agitation that protested against a Regional Plan that, critics claimed, would grey the green state, and give the construction industry carte blanche in many ecologically fragile areas. As the head of the critical Town and Country Planning department, he was in a position to supervise plans, grant licenses and allow conversions of green zone areas to commercial use. He protested that though many other legislators were involved in the Regional Plan, he had been singled out to take the rap.
After this, he began to nurture a strong voter base in slum, tribal and fishing village pockets in his constituency and beyond. His relationship with the Congress was always stormy. In 2007, he had accepted a Congress nomination, but filed his papers under the banner of of the United Goans Democratic Party at the last minute, leaving the Congress without a candidate.
When he joined the Congress later in exchange for a ministerial berth as education minister, his educational qualifications became the subject of a controversy raised by a local RTI activist.
In an earlier brush with the law in 2008, he, his wife and his sons were picked up and beaten in police custody, after a rally he had led turned violent and stoned the Panjim police station.
Later that year, Monserrate’s eldest son Rohit was booked for statutory rape of a German teenager. However, Rohit Monserrate was acquitted in 2011 for lack of evidence when the survivor and her mother refused to testify.