Locals in Goa believe that the state has considerable political clout, much like the capital, Delhi. “The decision to catapult Narendra Modi from campaign chief to prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha election happened right here, at Marriot hotel in Goa,” says Advocate Thalmann Perreira, CPM state secretary.
Perreira’s comment cannot be ignored in the wake of the sudden death of priest turned- social activist Father Bismarque Dias. Waging a struggle against realtors, the ruling BJP government and even the Opposition Congress, Bismarque Dias had been outspoken at various junctures to the point of being reprimanded by the Church. “The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa owns a lot of property in the state. This is supposed to be used for philanthropic purposes or for any purpose related to the Church,” says Perreira. “Instead, the Church sold its property in one of the river islands, Vanxim, in north Goa to a Bangalore-based resort developer. Father Bismarque resisted this and was subsequently defrocked.”
During the Portuguese rule in Goa, land was gifted to the clergy with the belief that local farmers would use it for agriculture. However, stating that the river island, Vanxim, was not used for cultivation purposes, the Church declared that it was working well within the law when it sold the island to the resort developer. “When Father Bismarque continued to voice his dissent, he was transferred to the US. He defied the order and that earned him the wrath of the Bishop,” adds Perreira.
Refusing to bow down, Dias continued to raise his voice against various tourism and ‘development’ projects in Goa. In 2012, Bismarque contested as an independent candidate in the Assembly elections thus becoming the first priest to contest in Goa. The Church raised a hue and cry stating that a priest could not run for elections as per the canon law. Ignoring the Church, Dias fought the election and secured 2000 odd votes, that too, without the backing of any mainstream political party.
It is in the wake of his popularity and his incessant struggle against the various environment-threatening development projects that his sudden death by ‘drowning’ has been looked upon with immense suspicion by activists and the people of Goa.