Panaji, June 3: Recent statements by BJP president Amit Shah and Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar virtually ruling out the possibility of special status for Goa, in order to preserve the state's unique identity, have caused a political storm with even a state minister protesting the decision.
While the opposition has criticised the BJP-led governments in the state and the centre for making a u-turn on the special status promise, a Goa minister has now joined the chorus against her own chief minister.
Speaking to IANS, Forest and Environment Minister Alina Saldanha said that Parsekar's comments describing the possibility of special status for Goa as a "mirage" were personal and that the latter was not "as well-versed" with the issue as his predecessor Manohar Parrikar, who is now the defence minister.
"Honourable chief minister is not as well versed with the issue as then chief minister Manohar Parrikar. He (Parrikar) knew the issue inside out," Saldanha said.
While Shah, during his two-day visit to Goa last week, had indicated that he was not in favour of taking an immediate decision on Goa's special status issue and that the demand would be bunched along with similar demands from other states, Parsekar on Sunday had virtually ruled out the demand saying demanding special status was equivalent to chasing a "mirage".
The dissent by Saldanha, the only woman member of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in Goa, caps a steady stream of critique by opposition and civil society groups which have accused the party of reneging on its pre-poll promise of granting special status to Goa both during the 2012 state assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Goa legislative assembly had also passed a unanimous resolution demanding special status from the union government in 2013.
"The chief minister should remember that he was a signatory to resolution. He was the state health minister at the time. Did he think it was a mirage then too?" asks Prajal Sakhardande, president of NGO Goa Movement for Special Status, of which Saldanha is a part.
For the last few years, the demand for special status for Goa has been doing the rounds in the political and social circles in the state, which has been facing challenges stemming from rapid in-migration, shrinking land resources and a resultant dilution of identity.
In 2014, Sakhardande had headed a delegation which met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the latter was campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and submitted a memorandum citing reasons for granting Goa special status.
"At that time, Modiji praised us for demanding special status to protect our identity and culture and not for a financial package. But now suddenly, their (BJP) attitude has changed," he said.
Saldanha, who has been facing flak from her own supporters for being unable to deliver the promise despite being a minister, now insists that Goa's demography could change forever if special status, which bars non-Goans from buying land in Goa, is not bestowed on the state.
"When are we going to wake up? Goa's unique identity is in the process of being wiped out," she said, adding that real estate lobbies in India metros who were keen on selling land and apartments on premium in Goa were stalling the process.
The opposition has already slammed the BJP volte face, with former union minister of state for law Ramakant Khalap claiming that as far as the BJP goes, "this is the end of the road as far as special status is concerned".
Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Oscar Rebello said that regarding special status, "the BJP leaders only choose to make vague statements about safeguarding cultural identity while ignoring the real issue that is about land".
Currently 12 Indian states enjoy special status, which include Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and some 12 districts of Karnataka.