Political worker Rajesh Naik has not read manifesto of any political party in a long time. When he had first stepped into the political arena about 31 years ago, he was an avid reader of manifestos. As Naik got a foothold in the field, he realised that manifestos are a “mere election formality” that is necessary due to the directives of the Election Commission of India (ECI). When he witnessed large-scale party-hopping by MLAs before the 2022 Assembly polls in Goa, manifestos stopped being relevant to him. They could hold some importance in other states, but not in Goa, says Naik. “Here, only money power and muscle power wins. In a state which is so corrupt, who will look at manifestos,” he wonders.
In the Goa Assembly elections held in February last year, political parties deviated from the usual subjects in manifestos and included those close to the Goan heart. With Goans demanding a halt to migration from other states saying it is displacing them from jobs, cutting across the divide, political parties spoke of the Goan identity and opportunities for the natives. They promised land titles, reservations in government jobs and private sectors, unemployment dole and a relook at the tourism sector of the state.
Despite a 90 per cent literacy rate in the state, Goans complained that they are unable to find jobs in Goa. The people had also demanded that the companies who came to the state and used the state’s resources must employ Goans.
Felix Xavier has been doing odd jobs with different establishments. His last was as a supervisor in a middle-sized garage. He has been on the lookout for a permanent job and salary but both seem to be non-deliverables. “I have two post graduate degrees. They are of no use. I am getting jobs abroad, but not in Goa,” says Xavier.
Given the fact that there is a widening chasm between the demand of the people and the fulfilment of these by the political class, manifestos have become redundant, say those like Xavier.
Ponda-based businessman Dilip Dhopeshwar believes that the problems of Goa are different from that of other states. When the focal point of every election is the defection of MLAs from one party to another, manifestos do not matter. “The 2022 Assembly elections saw a record number of MLAs and top leaders of every party defecting to another, particularly the BJP. When leaders are elected on one manifesto in one election and come to seek a vote on the manifesto of another party, such documents do not hold much weight in Goa,” says Dhopeshwar.
According to him, manifestos are mere documents that are printed for the sake of it as political parties never fulfil the promises made by them. “All parties talked about labourers from outside coming to Goa. The locals do not want to work so we need these labourers. Some manifestos were silent on this,” he says.
What goes into making manifestos? The president of the Goan Revolutionary Party, Manoj Parab, and his “revolutionaries” scoured every corner of Goa to look for and understand issues that the people of the state faced. On their field trips to both the urban and rural areas, Parab realised that the benefits of tourism have only impacted the urban pockets of Goa. “They are unable to find work as the migrants are outnumbering the natives,” says Parab. “I discussed with different experts on various topics that needed to be included in the party manifesto. Our focus was native Goans, land and migration,” says Parab.
With builders from other parts of the country, particularly Mumbai and Gujarat, buying up large tracts of land in Goa, real estate prices have gone up. The quaint Goan low-ceiling tiled-roof cottages and bungalows are now being converted into tall apartment blocks on the lines of those in Mumbai. In many parts of Goa, forest land is allegedly being de-reserved and sold off to developers.
“We spoke of the Goa Land Protection Bill and the Persons of Goa Origin Bill, both of which we would enact if elected. Protecting our land and our language is very important as both are disappearing,” says Parab. His party also spoke of compulsory susegad (relaxation) for the working class. “Susegad is not being lazy. It is being content. The working class needs a compulsory break for some time in between work,” says Parab.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) had a pre-poll alliance and contested together. Their joint manifesto offered 33 per cent reservation for Goan women in all jobs, including the private sector, and 50 per cent reservation in all the local bodies. Highlighting the Goan identity card, this manifesto promised to create two lakh new jobs with 80 per cent reservation for Goans and 10,000 vacancies in government jobs to be filled in three years. The alliance had promised environmentally sustainable mining with 80 per cent quota in the extraction contracts and mining associated jobs reserved for Goans. This combine also promised to grant land title and ownership rights of land under possession to all Goan families residing in the state before 1976. “Goans are fast losing their rights in the state,” says Abhijeet Sakhare, a school teacher. “Our land is being taken away by people who are outsiders. Poor Goans are being pressurised to sell their land. Today, a Goan cannot afford to buy land in his own homeland,” he says.
The BJP had called its manifesto the Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra. This 22-resolution manifesto echoed its resolve to win 22-plus Assembly seats in that election. The BJP promised quality housing for all Goans and home loans for deserving families at low interest rates of four per cent for women and two per cent for men. The manifesto also talked about carbon-neutral Goa, free from air, water and sound pollution.
Twenty-four MLAs, constituting 60 per cent of the total strength of the 40-member Goa Assembly switched parties prior to the 2022 Assembly polls in Goa.
Calling manifestos a waste of money, Chandrakant Barve, a wine shop owner, says that he has lost faith in manifestos. “When we elect them, they are from one party. When they change their party, the people who voted for them are in the dark. Do you think that politicians read manifestos?” he asks.
The Congress Party manifesto promised the implementation of ‘Mayecho Haat’ for Goa under the Pan India Nyay Scheme under which Rs 6,000 would be transferred to poor families every month. Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi had called it a surgical strike against poverty and said that Rs 72,000 in a year would be automatically transferred to Goa’s poorest citizens. The party also promised to scrap section 16B of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 30 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, resumption of sustainable mining activities in Goa, prevention of non-Goan vessels entering Goan waters, stop bull trawling and LED fishing—issues that the Goans have been demanding for years. The party also promised to establish smart devices and laptop libraries in schools and colleges on the lines of book libraries.
Delhi chief minister and the convener of the Aam Admi Party reworked the Delhi model and presented it before the Goans as the “Goa Model”. The 13-point manifesto promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 3,000 every month, until they found employment, a monthly allowance of Rs 1000 to every woman above 18 years of age across all parts of Goa.
Every Goan family would get a benefit of Rs 10 lakh in five years through different schemes, including free electricity, free education and free medical care. The entire manifesto was based on three Ps—preservation, progress, prosperity. Highlighting another pending demand, the AAP manifesto promised to enforce a five-km radius ban on trawler fishing, bull-trawling and LED fishing. This is similar to the points in the Congress Party manifesto.
Tracking of the manifestos of the political parties indicated that all parties had taken up environmental issues. Each also addressed the banning of the three controversial projects passing through the Mollem Wildlife area. These included the expansion of the Panjim-Belgavi national highway, the expansion of the Tamnar powerlines and the double tracking of the South West Railways.
Over 70 organisations in Goa had brought out the Goa Civil Society Manifesto which was published as the Peoples’ Manifesto. This group had met leaders of regional and national political parties and had urged them to include a ban on coal transportation. However, all parties had promised the resumption of “environment-friendly and sustainable” mining in Goa.
In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the ECI to frame guidelines on election manifestos in consultations with the recognised political parties. These guidelines were to be included as part of the model code of conduct. On August 2013, the ECI held meetings with the representatives of national and state-recognised political parties regarding the direction of the apex court. Based on these consultations, the guidelines were framed, which is now a part of the model code of conduct for the elections.
(This appeared in the print as 'Lost Identity')