Years after Parrikar’s social engineering, Catholic MLAs aspire for say in BJP affairs

Goa’s late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s pioneering social engineering experiment in 2012 to liberally allot election tickets to Catholic candidates based on their winnability may have metamorphosed into a political headache of sorts for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in this coastal state.

After the Parrikar-led BJP made unprecedented inroads into the Catholic votebank and romped to a first-ever simple majority in 2012, Catholic MLAs now outnumber Hindu MLAs in the ruling party, with a BJP MLA even suggesting that the day may not be far when a minority MLA may well pitch for the Chief Minister’s post.

“From 2000, the BJP had one Catholic MLA, and in 2012 they had seven. Today we have 15. It is a matter of pride. It is something which needs to be noted down, something which needs to go on record. By joining this party, by being a part of this group, we can make the difference,” Mapusa BJP MLA Joshua D’Souza said earlier this week.

“If there is a good number of representation, I am sure there could be a chance of it happening (a CM from the minority community). Anything is possible today,” the MLA said.

Joshua is the son of former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, who was the first and most prominent Catholic face of the Goa BJP.

While Joshua has publicly articulated the possibility of the BJP choosing an MLA from the minority community for the top job, several other Catholic MLAs in the BJP, who IANS spoke to, appeared to agree with him.

“It is not just because of numerical superiority. We are also being asked by our supporters as to why a Catholic cannot be a chief minister in this dispensation. It would send a positive signal to all minority communities in the state that the BJP truly looks after every section of the society,” a Catholic BJP MLA from North Goa said.

Another Catholic BJP MLA, one of the 10 Congress MLAs who split the party to join the ruling dispensation in 2019, claimed that despite the numerical strength, minority MLAs hold no clout or say in the BJP’s decision-making process at the state level.

“No feedback or suggestion is sought from the minority MLAs when it comes to taking decisions at the state level. No importance is given to the large representation of Catholic MLAs in the BJP,” the BJP MLA said on condition of anonymity.

Catholics account for nearly 26 per cent of the state’s 1.5 million population and the religious community often holds the key to electoral success in the state.

It is not that Catholics have not graced the chief minister’s chair in Goa. Out of the 13 Chief Ministers of Goa since 1963, five were Catholics between 1990 and 2000.

According to Goa BJP spokesperson Urfan Mulla, Joshua D’Souza’s comment only meant to underline the fact that the BJP does not use community identity when it comes to selecting its leaders.

“Joshua in his reaction has just said that someone from the minority can become a chief minister. This gives clarity that in the BJP, there is no issue between the minority and the majority and that both are given equal status,” Mulla told IANS.

The BJP spokesperson also said that the issue of picking a new chief ministerial candidate does not arise for the 2022 polls because the party’s national president J.P. Nadda has already said that the polls “would be contested under the leadership of Pramod Sawant and Sadanand Tanavade”.

Goa Congress spokesperson Trajano D’Mello, however, begs to disagree with Mulla.

“Joshua’s demand is just a passing dream,” D’Mello said.

Referring to Joshua’s father late Francis D’Souza’s political trajectory in the BJP, D’Mello said that when Parrikar was elevated to the Union cabinet as Defence Minister in 2014, Francis D’Souza was the senior most BJP MLA in the legislative party, but he was ignored when it came to appointing Parrikar’s replacement.

“Francis D’Souza was the first Catholic (major Catholic face) to join the BJP and rose to the post of Dy CM under Parrikar, but the latter refused to make him the CM although he was the most eligible candidate,” D’Mello said.