Goa Carnival

Is the National Minority Commission helping its reputation by pleading for Jindal's Metastrips project in Goa?

Sangh Parivar finds strange bedfellows in battle against Goa's Christian community and its environment protection groups

By John Dayal

Dina Nath Mishra is the most warm-hearted member of the Sangh Parivar I know. He has many good friends in the media community, of which not only is he a senior member as a former editor of the Navbharat Times and a syndicated columnist, he can justifiably lay claim to be a father figure, with at least one daughter and two sons in law also successful audio visual journalists. He maintains personal relationships with even his political foes. Our political beliefs are poles apart. I think of myself as a left-winger. Mishraji spent all his youth and some of his early middle age as a Sangh Pracharak in various states, before joining the media where he rose to become the resident editor of the Navbharat Times first in Patna and then in New Delhi before his well-earned retirement. Post retirement he rejoined active politics, and is today an elected member of the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party. His popular columns are published in several Hindi and English newspapers, including the Observer of Business and Politics, a paper that I represented in London and on whose staff I worked on back in New Delhi in the early 1990s.

It is because I read the Observer that I came across Mishraji's article 'Though shall not bear false witness - The agitation in Goa against Meta strips is not quite catholic, and hardly what it seems.' I am not writing a rejoinder, I could have done that in the Observer. I am just expressing my gratitude to Mishraji for opening my eyes, in the fourth and last column of his column, about a person you may have heard about. Says Mishraji 'HD Shourie, Director of Common cause and an active Human Rights activist, wrote to the chief secretary of the Goan government :We have received the disturbing news that a project of paramount importance which is being implemented in the territory of Goa, area of Courtalim and Sancoale for the past two years, is being opposed by communal forces who have been motivated on religious communal considerations.'

Many readers of Indian Currents may perhaps not know Mr HD Shourie, and therefore wonder why his name caught my eye. Shourie, a one time civil servant and magisterial officer in the Punjab, is the father of Arun Shourie, the World Bank official-turned journalist-turned minority and Dalit baiter who is now Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's minister for statistics and sundry such innocuous things that actually control the nerves and sinews of the government. Shourie's daughter Nalini Singh is a successful talk show producer and host, and a third child, Deepak, is a hugely successful publisher. A talented and powerful family.

Post retirement, which was decades ago, while son Arun was writing his books that made Muslims, Dalits and Christians angry, Shourie founded an NGO that mad the headlines taking up issues that were of concern to other retirees and others who live in big cities and are harassed by the structures of the bureaucracy. Soft spoken, smiling, almost self-effacing barring the profound press release, the elder Shourie became a celebrity. It therefore did occasionally nag me as to why the Senior Shourie was not counselling his elder son to easy on the bile and hate. I also wondered why Common Cause had not made common cause with the victims of communal violence periodically let lose by the Sangh Parivar and its cousins in other political formations on Muslims and Christians and Dalits.

I still refuse to believe that Mr HD Shourie is a communal person, or a communalist. I do not know which way he votes, nor do I care. I do care about the way he is purported to have written to the Goan government. The first thing to surprise me was that he wrote on behalf of an industrialist, even if the tycoon was presumably a personal friend from the old, undivided Punjab. The second thing to surprise me was that he spoke in favour of an industry, the Jindal Meta Strips project, which is widely held by conservation and environmental advocacy groups to be a highly polluting project that will for eternity damage Goa's fragile environmental equilibrium. Like me, Shourie is not a pollution expert. I do not think that as a good former judicial mind, he conducted an open enquiry to reach the conclusion that the project everyone loves to hate is 'of paramount importance'. Like Education for All, or Drinking water for all, I guess.

What really surprised me was the ease with which Shourie - and I am still quoting Mishraji's quoting of HD Shourie's letter -- came to conclusions that the people who opposed the project were 'communal forces who have been motivated by religious considerations.'

I don't think Shourie has any objection per se to religious groups being involved in the Environment protection movement. After all if it were not for the love of nature and the thesis of peace that moves a particular community in Haryana and Rajasthan, the Bishnois (former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal is a leading light of the community) the black buck and sundry other deer would have been wiped out in Haryana and Rajasthan where they now roam in large numbers. And it is because religious groups worship it that the Peacock does not end up in a cooking pot, favoured as a dinner though it may be elsewhere. Mountains keep their forest cover because a local temple makes them holy, and once in a while, a small temple is enough to make the mighty Japanese change the contours and direction of the Bridge they build over the Yamuna. It is a pity that religion has not been able to prevent the pollution in the Ganges or the decapitation of several ore-rich hills held holy by local, but very poor, tribals in central India.

Could it be that Shourie is incensed that some of the advocacy groups in Goa are Catholic?

Mishraji, speaking his mind, makes no bones about it. He does feel it is the Catholic Church. He says there is a hidden agenda behind the a agitation of the Anti Meta Strips Citizens Action Committee, 'to cause political destabilisation by creating communal tension, using the church as a front. Mishraji says Church resources were used for the agitation and that Nuns played a prominent part in involving the village women in the agitation. Mishraji's article and other some news items also allege that attacks were mounted on government vehicles from church premises, and that the 'underworld also seems to have played a role' in the agitation whose aim is to ensure closure of a company 'which has already made an investment of Rs 300 crores.'

To corroborate his statement, Mishraji quoted National Commission for Minorities member John Joseph who has briefed many reporters on what he says is his experience during a visit to Goa. Joseph claims 'after our meeting with the chief minister at Dabolin, we were returning to our hotel. On our way, our car was halted by a mob which wanted to lynch us. Trucks unloaded gravel and uprooted trees were used to cordon off the area. This is because the mob assumed we were employees of Meta Strips. Our driver was injured and we jumped off and saved ourselves before the car was torched. The parish priest got in touch with the concerned authorities and established our identifies and the police helped us flee from the spot. ' Joseph goes on to add dramatically 'During the melee we managed to figure out that the intention of the mob was either to take us as hostages or to kill kiss us on the spot, as they thought we were from Metastrip. If this actually had been the case, the company representatives would surely have been killed.'

It is good to see John learning how to figure out intentions and not merely dismiss this as just another petty crime. Like he did in the case of the series of anti- Christian incidents of violence in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana this year. Nuns and priests and lay complainants had told the commission in vain that there was more to the incidents, and that there was a waive of communalism in several states. The commission, from Justice Shameem downwards, took note only of half sentences and police statements.

How did John and his friends jump to the conclusion that the Church or even lay groups were involved in the 'attack' on himself? No company employee has ever been injured or killed, so how did he presume the 'mob' would have killed him if he had not been identified?

There is need for a through enquiry into the Goa incidents. An enquiry into the violence, right away, and at a high level.

Also another enquiry, possibly by the Central Vigilance Commission, into what John Joseph was doing in Goa in the first place in the Meta Strips case? How could there be any confusion about his identity, for after all he is a senior public office holder and the local police must be aware of his official visit to the state and must have provided him official accommodation and vehicle, possibly even a police escort with a red light on the car's bonnet.

At some stage, there must also be a debate into the role of the National Commission for Minorities - Does it see itself as a protector of the interests of the minorities, does it see itself as an agency to force a truce between killers and their victims, does I see its role as forcing a superficial one-sided peace without justice? And finally, does it see itself as an advocate for every polluting industry and communal group that wants to sully the country's environment, or its image.

Perhaps the only person to have shown some consistency is Sita Ram Jindal himself. Meta Strips as a project means a big business opportunity for this titan of industry, and he has left literally no stone unturned to ensure that the project takes off in Goa, whatever be the opposition to it and whatever it takes to quell that opposition. The Jindals have approached everyone they know, officials and ministers, politicians of all political hues, even of the Congress, and just about every Bishop they could find in the address book. The Sangh Parivar was very sympathetic to a company and owner they knew well. But senior Archbishops in the Catholic Bishops Conference of India refused to oblige, turning away company officers politely. Priests rebuffed offers of heavy donations, Churches said No to largesse. The Jindals are known for their charity in the north, endowing temples and other good works.

The Jindals could also not convince the people of Goa, those whose lives and future would be effected by the poisons of the process and materials, on the project.

The movement was popular, and the fears deep-rooted, and genuine.

It was at this stage that the troubleshooters in Jindal's powerful conglomerate thought of giving the whole thing a communal colour and putting the blame on the Church.

In early letters to James Massey, the former member of the Minorities Commission, the Jindal's sought his intervention. Massey marked the letter routinely to his junior staff, putting it effectively, as good a bureaucratic way as expressing his inability to intervene. There was no role for the Minorities' Commission, it was clear.

Massey's exit gave the Jindals another opportunity to seek the Commission's intervention, and put pressure on the movement. Politely put, this was about open a blackmail as was possible, in affect telling the Lay leadership and the Hierarchy of the church they would be deemed to be communal trouble makers if they put a spanner in the poor rich man's noble project.

I am not too surprised the Commission fell victim to the ploy of the company.

It is best to quote from a letter written to Justice Shameem, the Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, by the Archbishop of Goa, to set the record in perspective. Remember this that Archbishop Raul Nicolau Gonsalves write this letter on 17 May, 2000. The Archbishop-Patriarch wanted to know from Justice Shameem of commission member John Joseph was in Goa on 30 March on an official visit or a personal visit. I quote from the letter which is now public property:

' The visit of Mr John Joseph to Goa was in connection with an industrial project met Strips Ltd following a petition by Dr J S Jindal, chairman and managing director.

'Although we tried to convey our point of view and stand of the church in frank and clear way even in our personal meeting with Mr Joseph, I felt rather unhappy with the attitude and reaction of Mr John, feeling even disturbed with what appeared to be apparently biased and preconceived mind on the matter. This personal feeling and unease on our part was subsequently reinforced and strengthened with some seriously disturbing news and points of information about (Mr Joseph) .

The Archbishop posed a few questions to Justice Shameem. 'Although the government of Goa had made arrangements for their stay in the Circuit House, Panaji, John Joseph (and his companion) had been staying during their visit to Goa in other hotels including those in which higher officers connected with meta Strips Ltd were staying. John Joseph was seen going around in vehicles belonging to the same Meta Strips.'

The Archbishop in his letter said 'Practically at the end of our meeting on 31st march, Mr John Joseph reacting to reports 'known to him' that Jindal had great influence both at the Centre and state levels -- through 'great amounts of money' made available to those concerned - was advising or suggesting to us that it would be better to compromise so that the project could be implemented without further objections on the part of the affected people from the areas neighbouring the project site.

The Archbishop had, way back in February this year, had told the Commission in response to its enquiry that 'In the first place, it should be clear that the Church or its authorities as such are not directly involved in the movement of the people against the Meta Strip project. But, he said, 'we have clearly stated in no uncertain terms that the church is seriously committed to the promotion of Human values and the social well being of all the people, specially the oppressed, without consideration of Caste or creed. The involvement of priests was a concrete expression of this commitment. The archbishop pointed out hat most of the people of the affected villages happened to belong to the Catholic community.

The movement of the people against Meta Strips in Sancoale is organised and led by mainly two bodies of local people, not related to the Church. These two movements are called the Anti-Meta Strips Citizens Action Committee (AMCAC) and the All Goa Citizens Committee for Social Justice and Action (AGCCSJA). In fact, many non-Catholics too have joined the two movements as the project is increasingly been seen as a conspiracy against the people and the environment.

The case is sub judice - with the people moving the courts in a Public Interest Litigation and Jindals filing their counter case in the High court. For the moment one does not know the outcome of the judicial process. The company's many friends are meanwhile busy communalising the controversy, pitting the Catholic community and the Church against Goa's majority Hindu community. They have so far not found any takers for their poison.

It is however increasingly clear that the National Commission for Minorities has put its reputation on the line - and not in the defence of the Minorities.

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