A master of witty anecdotes, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar once liberally used a popular bikini adage to make a point about governance and number crunching. “Statistics are like a woman wearing a bikini. What they reveal is vital. What they hide is even more vital,” Parrikar would often say to peals of laughter from his acolytes.
But judging by the goings-on over the last two months or so, the two-piece bathing accessory now appears to have come to haunt Parrikar’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government. It may sound ridiculous, but the bikini controversy has triggered a churning and a split in the conservative end of Goa’s political axis.
The garment has also come close to creating a rift between the BJP and its ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), whose legislators have first opened the conservative politics ball. Electorally, both parties heavily rely more or less on the conservative Hindu voter, who is relishing the prospects of a Hindutva revival under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In June, MGP’s supremo and cabinet minister Sudin Dhavalikar demanded a ban on bikinis, mini skirts and pub culture. A month later his younger brother Deepak, also a cabinet minister, openly wished for a Hindu Rashtra under Modi. Days later, in the assembly, another MGP legislator, Lavu Mamledar, demanded a special ‘private’ beach for bikini-clad bathers with a fee for entry.
Such moralspeak, for members of the BJP-led coalition government which otherwise unabashedly protects and promotes the casino industry, may seem out of place. But there appears to be a method to the MGP’s madness and unceasing obsession with the bikini and the ‘Western culture’ bashing in Goa which sees half a million sun-loving European tourists annually.
Goa has been a Portuguese colony for over 450 years, and the 400,000-odd Christian population is often perceived as ‘Western’ by conservative Hindu politicians. The MGP, Goa’s oldest regional party, has a conservative Hindu vote base with its pockets of strength located far away from the more liberal and tourism influenced coastline, the stereotypical Goa everyone knows of.
For the hundreds of thousands of tourists who land in Goa every year, the vision of Goa is limited by the sea on one end and the palm-fringed beaches and shacks on the other. But tucked away in the hinterland, where the rivers aren’t saline, and temples, not churches or chapels, dot the countryside, in towns like Bicholim, Ponda, Madkai and Priol, there is a significant Hindu conservative vote, for whom a demand for a bikini ban or a Hindu Rashtra chorus is considered elementary and a logical argument.
“We should credit him. He has the guts to speak about protecting our culture. We should all back the minister,” said Swami Brahmeshanand, defending Sudin Dhavalikar after his remarks triggered a row. The seer has a strong following amongst the Bhandari samaj, which accounts for more than 30 percent of the state’s Hindu population.
Apart from winning over this Hindu conservative voter, the other aim of the hyped bikini outrage campaign by the MGP could also be to undermine the leadership of Chief Minister Parrikar, who appears to have virtually gagged on the bikini.
While the smaller and ultra conservative MGP can afford to make anti-Westernism its political plank, in the absence of ideas more worthwhile that will catch people’s imagination, the more mainstream BJP which has several Christian legislators and has banked on the minority vote bank in the 2012 assembly poll, simply cannot, at least in the same brazen manner.
Parrikar is caught in an even tighter bind because he and his party cannot afford to be seen as openly pro-liberal either, for fear of losing the Hindu conservative vote, also eyed by the MGP. Over the last two months, the bikini-inspired, pro-conservatism controversies have taken a toll on the authority, as well as his liberal, modern image which the IIT-educated Parrikar is keen on otherwise projecting.
Parrikar has not only been compelled to express support for Dhavalikar but has been forced to formally gag his cabinet colleagues against commenting on controversial issues and blame the national media for raking a needless controversy.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Parrikar may need to shed the bikini fixation and put on his thinking cap to find a way out of this unseemly political mess.