Last weekend, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-led front that opposes state financial support to English-medium primary schools in Goa stepped up its aggressive campaign against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government. The Bhartiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch had earlier set June 1 as its deadline for the Goa government to stop financial grants to 127 English-medium primary schools, which are run by a church body.
On June 18, the Manch caused a stir outside a government function attended by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar with its sloganeering. Led by Goa RSS chief Subhash Velingkar, the Manch warned that it would boycott all government functions and craft a BJP defeat in the upcoming 2017 Assembly polls if its demands were not met.
Much to the government’s embarrassment, Velingkar has steadily built up the anti-English campaign over the past months with a series of public meetings, specifically targeting Assembly segments of BJP leaders – including in state capital Panaji, the constituency of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar – for the party’s alleged U-turn on the medium of instruction issue.
Before wresting Goa from the Congress in 2012, BJP leaders were part of the Manch’s strident anti-English campaign, which aims to institute the mother tongue Konkani as the medium of instruction in all primary schools. But the saffron party eventually changed tack in favour of a more accommodative position, which earned it electoral dividends in Goa.
Once in power, the BJP crafted a more centrist position, continuing the former government’s policy on the medium of instruction – it has continued grants to schools imparting education in English. The government initially said that this was a “temporary measure”, but has now told the Manch that it is administratively impossible to revert to regional languages as the medium of instruction.
Instead, it suggested measures to placate the Manch – bilingual textbooks, monetary support to regional Konkani and Marathi schools, and freezing permits for new English primary schools. But this hasn’t cut any ice with the Manch, which has hardened its stance.
The tussle is playing out in full public view as the BJP watches in exasperation. The ruling party has asked its members to refrain from attending Manch meetings, or supporting the RSS-led front, to deprive the organisation of the oxygen of publicity, further angering the Manch.
BJP vs RSS
The intra Sangh feud first exploded in the second half of 2015, when the Manch – which was near dormant from 2012-2015 after its political and literary figures were accommodated in positions of power following the BJP’s 2012 election win – revived its public opposition to English, targeting in particular Parrikar, who still enjoys considerable clout in Goa despite his move to the Centre as defence minister.
At that time, the BJP government was readying an Act that it said would “amicably” settle the vexed issue.
Raining on that plan, RSS chief Velingkar called Parrikar a liar, triggering a response from the defence minister’s supporters. One response came from the South Goa MP, Narendra Sawaikar, challenged Velingkar to contest elections to understand electoral reality.
While both sides of the saffron camp traded insults and burnt effigies of each other under the media spotlight, the Bill that was to formalise financial grants to English-medium primary schools was shelved earlier this year.
Though the state continues to give grants to English-medium primary schools without a formal Act, the shelving of the proposed law has displeased the Forum for Rights of Children’s Education – a parents' organisation that wants the government to support all language mediums, including English.
Meanwhile the dispute festers on, with no resolution from the central BJP unit.
With insiders suggesting that the RSS-BJP feud stemmed from ego clashes over control, decision-making, strategy and possibly a by-election, there seems to have been an unsuccessful attempt to shift RSS leader Velingkar from the state.
The feud can also be attributed to the fact that while the BJP takes a temporarily centrist position to stay in power (Christians form 26% of the population in Goa and several Christian MLAs make up the BJP’s legislative numbers), the RSS has its own compulsions in a state where other Hindutva organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti are growing.
The BJP government’s response to the RSS attack has swung from counter insults in defence of Parrikar, to failed attempts to effect a transfer, and more lately humour, with chief minister Parsekar joining the Manch’s sloganeering for a minute at the June 18 function.
Parrikar told Scroll.in that he was not willing to discuss the issue. “It is for the state BJP to deal with it”, Parrikar said.
Within the state BJP, however, the Manch’s stance has found support from Parrikar’s rivals and others.
Rehearsal for elections?
But with the Assembly elections coming up in Goa next year, one section of the Opposition sees the RSS-BJP feud as a staged fight to create good cop-bad cop, hardline-softline binaries that will keep the electorate guessing, and the Diocesan Society of Education, which runs 127 English-medium schools, on uncertain terrain.
Whatever the result of this feud, one thing is certain: it will have a long-standing impact on the state’s social fabric.
Prabhakar Timble, social commentator and convenor of the regional Goa Forward Party, said: “Whether it is a drama or not, whether the fight is real or not, it serves the interests of Hindutva forces in Goa, by creating hatred, polarising and consolidating the majority vote against the minority Catholic community, and strengthening hardliners within the party. Finally it will all help the saffron party.”
Timble added that the Manch’s repeated accusations of “appeasement of minorities”, verbal attacks on the Archbishop, and its tendency to equate English with anti-nationalism and regional languages with nationalism, will ultimately drive a wedge between Goa’s major communities even though 60% of students in church-run English-medium schools are Hindus. “Sadly the damage will be to Goa’s social harmony,” he said.