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From the beach to the temple in Goa

India Today logo India Today 17-06-2022 Kiran D Tare

Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant is barely into his second term but has already set the Hindutva agenda for the next five years. And it doesn't stretch too far from the present national rhetoric of his party, the BJP—with a Goan twist, of course. The Mughals will take a back seat to the Portuguese, as Sawant sets out to resurrect temples said to have been demolished during the 450-year-long European colonisation. Sawant first voiced the idea at the popular Mangueshi temple in Ponda in December 2021. "This temple's origins lie in Kushasthali, modern Cortalim, which fell to the Portuguese in 1560," the CM said. "Our ancestors moved the Manguesh linga from the original site to its present location.... Till now, the tourists came for our beaches, it's our duty to bring them to our temples."

Initially, Goans took Sawant's words as poll rhetoric, but he's clearly serious. "I have asked the archives department to make a list of temples destroyed by the Portuguese," he said at a conference in Delhi in May. "We have made a provision of Rs 20 crore for the survey."

Sawant has also announced plans to bring an anti-conversion bill in the assembly's monsoon session starting July 11—touching another sensitive chord. Sawant's case has been boosted by the arrest of Dominic D'Souza, a Siolim-based pastor, in April. Goa Police has booked him for allegedly promoting enmity between religious groups and "outraging religious feelings". "We respect all religions, but forceful conversion or luring people to a religion will not be allowed," the CM said.

Official data show that the Por­tug­u­ese colonisers destroyed some 300 temples during the Goa Inquisition that began in 1560—a policy that sought to prevent New Christians and even Old European ones from being attracted to native forms of worship. Chri­stian theologians like Fr Victor Ferrao say it's "reductionist" to equate those temples with Pauranic Hinduism, as they were symbols of native, independent, often competitive cults and religions later assimilated by Hinduism.

Sawant's Hindutva push is a perceptible shift in the BJP's line locally.

The other side contests this vehemently. In May, right-wing outfit Hindu Raksha Manch (HRM) demanded that Parashuram, the Vishnu avatar mentioned in the Sahayadrikhanda as having reclaimed Konkan from the sea, be declared the patron saint of Goa, rep­lacing Portuguese missionary Francis Xavier. The church in Old Goa that preserves St Xavier's body is one of the state's most visited tourist sites. "Xavier had ord­e­red the death of thousands of Hin­dus who refused to convert," says HRM lea­der Subhash Velingkar. The proposed anti-conversion law, which feeds this mood, has upped tempers. Shriniwas Khalap, state Congress secretary, says no present-day data support such a law. "How has this issue popped up sudd­enly? There are very few cases of forced conversion here," he says.

Sawant's Hindutva push is a perceptible shift in the BJP's line locally. In 2012, when the late Manohar Parrikar formed the first BJP majority regime, he confessed Christians had helped make it possible. A decade later, when it has opened its account in Christian-dominated Salcete, the BJP's revised stand might put off the community. But the party is willing to risk it. "The Navelim result shows we will win if the opposition vote is scattered between Congress and AAP even if there are 80 per cent Christian votes," says a top BJP source. The party will get to test the theory soon enough—the panchayat election is likely to take place in October.

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