Sunday, December 30, 2007

Goa's Tourism based Politics

Ever heard of Matanhy Saldhana, the public figure from Goa? He used to be the state’s minister of tourism once and currently is more known for being at the fore front of a movement to stop tourists from coming to Goa. But perhaps many readers of this piece may not have heard of him. What about a story from Indian lore which talks about a wood-cutter who was sawing off the very branch of the tree that he was sitting on? Yes, Kalidasa, the classical poet. Arguably, many more people would have heard of him. Now trying to compare Kalidasa the poet with Saldhana may be attempting to do the impossible but as things stand, fact is mimicking fiction and Matanhy Saldhana is doing just that, as he cuts off the branch of the very tree he sits on. For Saldhana in his bid to attract attention to his agitation against SEZs being set up in Goa has decided that no tourist should be seen in Goa post December 28th.

I don’t know if this particular agitation has much of popular support and at the time of writing it is not clear if the movement is petering out and if I, the VIP suitcase toting middle class Indian tourist can visit the place next week as I want to. But of course SEZs have attracted a lot of controversy in Goa and else where, so this piece is not about the merits or demerits of these zones. But for those who promote them, the principal reason for doing so is economic advancement of the state and the ongoing prosperity that this industrialization will eventually bring. So it is safe to assume that if any one chooses to oppose the creation of the SEZ, they have a better option to propose to the people of the state.

That however is not the case here. Mr. Saldhana and his friends in the Goa Movement against Special Economic Zones (GMAS) which includes the Opposition BJP have decided to hit their fellow citizens where it hurts the most, by throwing uncertainty into the whole tourism based economy, peaking in the New Year celebrations on Goa’s beaches. Now a lot could be said about Goa’s tourism including some unsavory bits and a case could well be made out that the booming touristy economy has given rise to several social ills like pedophilia, drugs, and human trafficking. It would have been wonderful if instead of opposing the inflow of tourist’s altogether as they threaten to do, the Goa movement folks took up cudgels to clean up the tourism industry and control the kind of tourist who comes to Goa and keeping their eyes open to see how they spend their money. It would have done credit to Mr. Saldhana, a former tourism minister to be at the helm of just such an agitation and the BJP’s moral policing unit could do the cleaning up that they normally do.

Instead of taking on the human traffickers and the drug cartels and the pedophiles whose presence and activities are doing lasting damage to Goa’s social and moral fabric, the agitators take on the run of the mill tourist coming in by bus or train and plane and make sure they don’t come to Goa. Perhaps they want that the tourists instead discover some other hospitable locale where they can empty their purse and puff up the local economy instead of contributing to Goa’s own. And in the end may be, Goa will neither have an SEZ, neither the leisurely tourist with the generous purse, who has migrated else where to more welcoming climes. And Mr. Saldhana and his ilk like the Kalidasa of old end up cutting the branch of the tree on which they were sitting. Kalidasa of course under went a transformation and went on to leave a timeless legacy. Whether the leadership of the GMAS will do so is what we wait to see with bated breath.

1 comment:

Silver said...

Shantanu Dutta knows precious little of how Indian politicians think and even less about Goa. It was Mr. Saldanha's call for tourists to leave Goa that finally jolted the Goa govt. All these weeks of peaceful yatras, peaceful meetings, peaceful petitioning accomplished zilch, nada, zifr, shunya. I, as a Goan, am more than willing to sacrifice a tourist season than sacrifice the whole of Goa.

Contrary to what Mr Dutta (and much of India) believes, Goa will not fold up if the tourists stay away. I personally want an end to toourism in the state, and a new set of policies to shore up the state's economy. The white tourist has brought along his own brand of ills. The Indian tourist, with his boorish manner and his scant regard for civic behavior, is a BIG nuisance as well. Our beaches are not your personal outdoor bathrooms, fellows. So tourists, stay away. Don't come to Goa. We will figure out a way to survive and thrive. We did, all these years, didn't we, before the whites & desis discovered our paradise to foul it up?