A video targetting the Catholic Church in Goa for its purported anti-development positions is “meant to incite violence and cause disturbances”, the Aam Aadmi Party said in a police complaint filed on Wednesday. The video emerged online in the wake of the decision of a Church affiliate, the Council for Social Justice and Peace, to join 14 other civil society groups to oppose the state’s plan to urbanise nearly two dozen villages.
Organising under an umbrella body called Goencho Awaz, or Goa’s Voice, the groups are currently mobilising support for a protest meeting in Margao on Friday.
The video – the source of which is as yet unknown – lists several initiatives that it claimed the Church has opposed, including the Konkan Railway, the plan to build a new airport at Mopa and school education in Konkani. “Goemkars [Goa residents] don’t get misled,” the video declares.
In its complaint, which has been filed against “unknown persons”, the Aam Aadmi Party says that the video “brazenly seeks to promote communalism by inciting hatred against the Christian community”.
The Goencho Awaz coalition was formed in response to a decision by the Manohar Parrikar government in December to put 22 villages in North Goa under the jurisdiction of various urban Planning and Development Authorities, essentially declaring them urban areas. This decision was opposed by residents of these villages, who contended that it would cause “unnecessary urbanisation” and destroy their way of life. Their protests drew support from several social organisations.
On March 31, the Goa government relented, but only partially: Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai said most of the 16 villages given over to the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority would be dropped from the plan. Sardesai’s Goa Forward Party is a key member of Parrikar’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition in the state.
The protestors were not satisfied and continued their agitation at Panjim’s Azad Maidan. They demanded that instead of urbanising the villages, the state government should amend the Town and Country Planning Act to give Village Development Committees more authority as mandated by 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.
Sardesai hit back, alleging that the protestors were making “anarchic demands”. He attacked the Church for supporting the agitation and accused it of “playing politics to destabilise the government”. Also targeting the opposition Congress, he said the agitation was aimed at forcing him to break his Goa Forward Party’s alliance with the BJP.
‘It is a diversion’
Though the anti-Church video has been produced anonymously, political observers claim that it is the handiwork of supporters of the Goa Forward Party. Ironcially, it could damage the political standing of Sardesai, who has lately emerged as the de facto acting chief minister in the absence of the ailing Parrikar. In fact, if the growing opposition to the urbanisation plan is any indication, Sardesai’s image has already taken a hit for championing the Planning and Development Authorities, which have become synonymous with corruption and for promoting builder interests in Goa.
The Church, meanwhile, has not made a comment on the video. But activists involved with the protests said the minister’s outburst and the video that has followed are an attempt to shift the focus away from the real issues. “Obviously, it is a diversion,” said Abhijeet Prabhudesai of Rainbow Warriors, one of the constituents of Goencho Awaz. “The main issue is that the Regional Plan 2021 is full of scams and corruption, which they desperately want to take our attention away from. But I don’t think they will succeed because people are quite aware what is at stake. People will recognise these moves for what they are.”
The Regional Plan 2021, in abeyance since 2012, was recently revived by Sardesai. Activists allege that the plan aims to commercialise rural land and hand it over to private players to construct high-rise buildings or develop as controversial eco-tourism zones.