Mumbai: Cars rolled in and out of the driveway as 39 newly elected MLAs flocked the Goa legislative assembly to swear their oaths. But in their midst, a lone, black two-wheeler throttled in. Perched pillion was a young man in a white shirt and blue jeans, with a ready smile and a thumbs-up for the cameras.
This was 28-year-old Viresh Borkar, the new MLA for the St Andre constituency, who trumped the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sitting legislator, Francisco Silveira, in his debut election.
As Borkar swore his oath in the assembly Tuesday morning, his party, the Revolutionary Goans (RG), described it as a “goosebumps moment” for the ‘POGO family.’ POGO is the party’s acronym for those whose interests it champions — People of Goan Origin.
The party, which began life as a social movement in March 2017 with an agenda to protect and fight for the ‘sons of the soil’, took the Goan political fray by storm this election.
Not only did the party, whose election symbol is a football, score its first goal with an MLA, it also garnered the third-highest voteshare in the state overall, at almost 10 per cent.
This was more than competitors such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Trinamool Congress (TMC) could claim. Moreover, it dented the Congress’ fortunes, eating up a significant share of the anti-incumbency votes in more than half a dozen constituencies.
“It’s a miracle,” RG chief Manoj Parab told ThePrint over the phone later that day.
“We decided to contest elections in February 2021. The file to register us as a party was passed only last year in November. We got our symbol 1.5 months before the election. We fielded 38 candidates and now have our own MLA. It is nothing short of a miracle,” Parab, 37, said.
He added that people had disregarded the RG as “some ‘time pass’ by children happening on the side” while the big players slugged it out in the polls.
The victory, he said, has given the RG the licence to be taken seriously, and also a foothold in the world of intellectuals who now want to engage with the party’s leaders and hear what they have to say.
‘We are not Raj Thackeray and his party’
The ‘sons of the soil’ political agenda is most famously associated with Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, born in Mumbai in 1966, which sought to challenge ‘outsiders’ snatching jobs from native Mumbai residents, as well as illegal migrant hawkers, the proliferation of illegal slums, and so on.
Four decades later, in 2006, Thackeray’s nephew, Raj Thackeray, began his own outfit with the same ideology. Much like the RG, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) took political watchers by surprise, getting 13 MLAs elected in its very first assembly election, and playing spoiler for the Shiv Sena in a number of other seats.
“In the run-up to the election, we were portrayed to be anti-migrant. People are calling me Raj Thackeray and drawing parallels to the MNS, but we are far from it. We have never resorted to violence. We are not anti-migrant. We are pro-Goans,” Parab told ThePrint.
The RG, he said, raises issues such as native Goans being displaced while migrants buy “second and third homes and holiday homes”, illegal housing, and the destruction of Goa’s greenery by unlawful hill cutting or land filling, illegal migrant vendors, and employment for native Goans, among other issues.
Unlike the aggressive demonstrations of the Shiv Sena and the MNS, the RG, Parab said, uses the power of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, their mobile phones, laptops, and social media, connecting with people through live videos, and broadcasting illegal “anti-Goan” activities for everyone to see.
“So many non-Goans settled in Goa also look at us with respect because we are not against those who are staying and working here legally,” Parab said.
‘Uzzo’ for the ‘Niz Goenkar’
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, with local residents pegging the figure at anywhere between 35 and 50 per cent in the absence of updated statistics.
Parab completed his MSc in Geology from the University of Goa in 2008, and started his own water tank cleaning business. Speaking to ThePrint, he said it felt unfortunate and unjust that most of his batchmates had to go out of Goa to find work.
“Goa has 19 industrial estates, but only 10-15 per cent of the employees will be native Goans. Nobody talks of this injustice. We don’t want industries to come to Goa just to use our resources, our subsidies, pollute our land, air, and water. If we are giving our resources, we should get employment,” Parab said, adding that this experience planted the seed of a movement like RG in his mind.
Parab met RG’s co-founders, Borkar and Vishvesh Naik, as colleagues working for the AAP. However, the three grew disillusioned with the allegedly Delhi-centric, top-down management of the party and decided to part ways, launching the RG on 3 March 2017.
Like Borkar, Naik and Parab, too, contested the 2022 assembly election. Naik contested from Priol, drawing about 9 per cent of the vote, while Parab contested from Tivim, getting a 21 per cent voteshare.
Soon after its formation in 2017, the RG drafted a ‘POGO bill’, which defines the ‘Niz Goenkar (indigenous Goan)’ as one whose parents or grandparents were born in the region before 20 December 1961, or before Goa’s liberation from Portuguese rule.
It also proposes certain rights and privileges for the Niz Goenkar, including preference in government jobs, leases, tenders, government subsidies, and so on.
The organisation started registering native Goan labourers, farmers, voters, those native Goans interested in vending fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, and so on. The RG would take up targeted activities for these groups.
By 2018, the movement had grown bigger and more time-consuming, prompting Parab to hand over his business to his brother and Naik to quit his full-time job at a bank in 2018. In 2019, Borkar, a software engineer, also resigned from his private-sector job to work full time for RG.
RG members handed over their POGO bill draft to all members of Goa’s assembly, but, Parab said, none of them took it up. The RG then started holding POGO rallies to publicise the draft. The very first rally at Benaulim in December 2019 drew about 3,500 people, according to Parab, and the crowd only swelled in subsequent rallies at Anjuna and Dabolim.
The RG’s debut MLA will table the POGO bill in the assembly as a private member’s bill, Parab said.
On 10 March, as counting for the St Andre constituency was wrapping up with Borkar having emerged as a definite winner, his supporters garlanded the RG leader and hoisted him on their shoulders, in chorus shouting, “Uzzo uzzo”.
The Konkani word, which the RG has made synonymous with itself through the campaign, means ‘fire’’
Borkar’s victory, the RG says, is nothing but the “Goans’ uzzo in the assembly.”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)