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'Old fears' of cultural polarisation rising in Goa (News Analysis)

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 Panaji, July 31 (IANS) While apologizing for his "India is already a Hindu Nation" and "I am a Christian-Hindu" comments, Goa Deputy Chief Minister Francis D'Souza did not necessarily admit to any wrongdoing.

What D'Souza, in fact, ended up saying was exactly what Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told the New York Times' India blog 'India Ink' in September 2013 that India was "culturally Hindu".

"India is a Hindu nation in the cultural sense. A Catholic in Goa is also Hindu culturally, because his practices don't match with Catholics in Brazil; except in the religious aspect, a Goan Catholic's way of thinking and practice matches a Hindu's. So Hindu for me is not a religious term, it is cultural," Parrikar had said.

D'Souza, while apologising earlier this week to those whose sentiments were hurt, said: "I am sorry if I have hurt anyone's sentiments. What I feel I said. According to you, my opinion may be wrong but for me I am right".

"Hindu is my culture, Christianity is my religion. When I say Hindu, it means culture and not religion. Hindu culture is 5,000 years old and my religion is 2,000 years old," D'Souza also said.

The comments come at a time when the media, social commentators as well as opposition political parties are collectively sensing that the already conservative ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) combine in Goa is slowly swinging to right-wing politics.

After two cabinet ministers, brothers Sudin and Deepak Dhavalikar, demanded a ban on bikinis, mini-skirts and , the editor of leading English daily "O Herald O" Sujay Gupta described them as "walking talking symbols of cultural polarization" in its Sunday edition.

Gupta said "old fears" were returning to haunt Goa's Catholics, who account for 26 percent of the population.

"The utterances of (Rashtriya Hindu Sena chief Pramod) Muthalik which went unchallenged, Sudin Dhavalikar's remarks on the ban on bikinis and pubs, largely perceived as an anti-Catholic jibe, and to top it all Deepak Dhavalikar's belief that (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi would make India a 'Hindu Rashtra' have pulled out all the ghost(s) and the fears of Catholics out of the woodwork," Gupta said.

Noted lawyer and State secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Thalmann Pereira admitted that such comments "certainly have a polarising effect".

IIT-Mumbai alumnus and techie Samir Kelekar, who earlier this year launched a campaign decrying police action against a Facebooker who, in a post, accused Modi of plotting an alleged holocaust in Goa, said the controversial comments were being made to appeal to an emerging hardline Hindu vote-bank in Goa's more conservative hinterland.

"There is definitely a strong conservative Hindu trait in Goa, especially in areas such as Ponda, where these guys come from. For instance, (I) remember that some women came out supporting the ban on mini-skirts. He is appealing to them," Kelekar told IANS.

Sudin Dhavalikar and his brother Deepak have been elected from the Marcaim and Priol constituencies, both located in the relatively conservative Ponda sub-district.

Nationalist Congress Party state vice president Trajano D'Mello claimed that Modi's aggressive Lok Sabha election campaign had triggered a polarisation in the Hindu conservative vote bank.

"Polarisation has taken place. The Lok Sabha election in Goa has proved that. Now the fight is to get the chunk of polarised hardline vote, which is about 20 percent of the state's Hindu population," D'Mello claimed.

Hindus account for 66 percent of Goa's 1.5 million population.

It would be worth recalling that Swami Brahmeshanand, a Hindu seer popular amongst the Bhandari Samaj, a sizable chunk of Hindus spread across Goa, especially the hinterland, was one of the first defenders of Sudin Dhavalikar when he sparked a national sensation for his bikini-ban comments.

"We should credit him. He has the guts to speak about protecting our culture; we should all back the minister," the seer said in his televised speech in defence of the minister.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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