Mumbai: In 2013, the then Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had led an all-party delegation to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demanding special status for Goa. The delegation had claimed that the state was staring at ethnic dilution, due to unfettered migration from other states.
Among other things, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led delegation had said that the Goa government should be empowered to bring in laws restricting the sale of land to non-Goans.
Eight years on, the BJP is now eyeing the growing vote bank of Goa’s migrant population ahead of the 2022 state assembly election, to offset any squeeze in its core voter base. Next year’s state polls will be the first since Parrikar’s death — one of the most popular BJP leaders in Goa.
The controversial Bhumiputra bill, passed in the Goa assembly last week, is a step in this direction, even though it is being masked as a move to protect the “sons of the soil”, say political observers.
The Goa Bhumiputra Adhikarni Bill, 2021, recognises anyone living in the state for over 30 years as a “son of the soil” and enables them to claim the ownership of their house, of not more than 250 square metres and built before 1 April 2019.
While introducing the bill, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said the bill will help native Goans, who do not own the land on which their homes are built, live with dignity. Opposition MLAs have, however, criticised the bill as one that seeks to regularise illegal constructions by migrants, rather than benefitting Goans.
On Tuesday, CM Sawant said in a social media address that the state government was willing to drop the word ‘bhumiputra’ from the bill “as the sentiments of many people are attached to the word”.
3 decades or 3 generations: What makes a ‘bhumiputra’?
Goa-based advocate Cleofato Coutinho, who is also a political analyst, told ThePrint, “Sons of the soil are those who have lived in a place for two to three generations, not three decades. Over the last two to three decades, the population of migrants in Goa has shot up. There are large clusters of migrants in constituencies with industrial or tourism activity such as Dabolim, Cortalim, Mapusa, Margao and Calangute.”
“By the sheer definition of the bill, it is this population that the BJP is trying to tap with the Bhumiputra bill. The government has introduced it hurriedly before next year’s election, but it is unlikely to pass court scrutiny,” he added.
However, BJP Goa President Sadanand Shet Tanavade told ThePrint that the bill has “nothing to do” with any particular vote bank. “It is in the interest of all Goans. Since elections are just six months away, anything that the government does now will be linked to poll preparation.”
Goa’s migrant votebank
According to the 2011 census, Goa has a population of 14.58 lakh, of which 18.5 per cent are migrants from other states.
Over the past decade, the migrant population has further surged. In the 2017 assembly election, all political parties were seen making overtures to this section of voters, with some candidates releasing manifestos in Kannada and Marathi, to reach voters who are migrants from the neighbouring states. Parties also gave election tickets to migrant candidates.
The BJP too brought in important leaders from states that contribute to Goa’s migrant population in large numbers, including Nitin Gadkari, Devendra Fadnavis, Ananth Kumar, and Smriti Irani.
Captain Viriato Fernandes, co-convenor of Goencho Avaaz, a non-government organisation that has taken up a number of public issues highlighting alleged graft, said the original Goan population, including Hindus, Christians and Muslims, has shrunk to 50 per cent now.
“The BJP’s core vote bank in Goa was the Goan Hindu (population) and quite a large number of Goan Catholics who supported the BJP because of Parrikar. But, now Parrikar is no more and there are many who are disillusioned with the current BJP government in Goa,” said Fernandes.
Two months after the former CM’s death, the BJP lost Parrikar’s stronghold of Panaji — a seat that it had held for 25 years — to Congress in a by-poll, held along with the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The winning Congress MLA, Atanasio Monserrate, however, joined the BJP in July 2019.
“The BJP is trying to reach out to migrants with the Bhumiputra bill, but by calling this population ‘bhumiputras’, the party is risking alienating many from its core voter base,” Fernandes added.
‘Bill will benefit both Goans and migrants’
The BJP’s Vinay Tendulkar, a Rajya Sabha MP, told ThePrint, that the bill is not to appease any vote bank, and will benefit Goans as well as migrants, though migrant beneficiaries will be a much smaller number.
“Our Goans will also benefit from this. Big families cannot stay together, so people construct houses on ancestral property, communidade land, panchayat property, but these are not legalised. Similarly, people come from outside to Goa for work and construct small houses for themselves. For us, a person living and working in Goa for 30 years is as good as a bhumiputra,” Tendulkar said.
Tendulkar added the BJP is not worried about any impact of Parrikar’s absence on its voter base. “We have won many local civic, panchayat and zilla parishad elections since then. Although we will feel Parrikar’s absence, we are a karyakarta-based organisation and have done good work for the people.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)