A few candidates are taking up the resentment of local residents against backpackers seen as contributing little to the Goan economy
PANJIM ~ The female proprietor of Viva Panjim, a colourful touristy pub, grabs glasses off tables, hands them over to waiters, and tells them, “Jao bhago (go run)!” She then appeals to Viva’s multi-racial patrons to drink up fast. A blond man’s request for a beer is promptly turned down. The lady asks her staff to start turning off the pub lights. The time is 10 pm. The place is Panjim.
Though hard to believe, it is indeed happening in Goa: a place best known for fun, frolic and dipsomania. These rules will be in force until vote counting day on 6 March. Each night, at the strike of 10 o’clock, a vigilant police department starts raiding eateries. If there are liquor glasses or beer bottles on any tables, proprietors are hauled up and licences cancelled with immediate effect. Owners complain that no politician is willing to listen as they do not want to be on the wrong side of the Election Commission (EC).
Business has been severely affected, say people across Goa. With virtually no night life, owners of eateries are left to deal with mounting complaints from foreign tourists. “I have spent a lot of money to come down to Goa from Europe. I came for enjoyment. If I cannot enjoy a beer at my own pace, then why should I be here?” asks an angry Federick Javis.
Such strict rules are new to Goa, a place where personal and social freedom is a priority. According to an EC source, this is being done in view of the rising rates of crime in the state.
The involvement of Goa’s political class—directly and indirectly—with crime syndicates is common knowledge. Those in the know also say that ‘buying off’ a policeman is as easy as buying feni.
But even statistics do not fully reveal the whole truth. There is a growing realisation that Goa is attracting the wrong kind of tourists. “We are attracting the dregs, the [flotsam]—voyeurs, exhibitionists, perverts, paedophiles… all waiting to have fun,” complains Candida Almeida, a tourist operator.
The growing tribe of nude sunbathers is a major menace, say local residents. “A majority of local boys hang out at shacks and bars trying to attract White-skinned females. Age no bar. Only a small percentage are snubbed. The rest go buy sex, further spreading the notion that sex comes easy in Goa. We want our politicians to stop it all,” says Margerita Tavares, a housewife campaigning for an independent candidate.
Many fear that it will not be long before Goa gets branded as a sex-and-drugs destination. “We have to save Goa. It has to begin now, otherwise there will be nothing left for the next generation. Already, we are facing a severe power and water shortage,” says Father J Bismarque Dias, an independent candidate—with an earthen pot as his poll symbol. Bismarque is a pioneer among priests contesting an election in the state, the very first. He is contesting from the Congress stronghold of Cumbarjua. “I do not represent a religion. For every centimetre of development, there is a yard of consequence. Goa is facing the consequences now. Goans have to wake up—the death knell has sounded,” says Bismarque, whose ‘I Love Goa’ T-shirts are fast becoming popular in the state.
Some, like Amit Sukhija, proprietor of Panjim Inn, Panjim Pousada and Panjim Peoples, worry about a slippery slope effect. “Goa is sitting on an ecological disaster. Corruption is the biggest problem. The next is drugs. There has to be strong political will to weed out [these things], and that seems missing,” says Sukhija.
Another first here is the Church’s opposition to Goa’s annual carnival, held every February, that lures lots of foreign tourists. It is no longer recognisable as the traditional carnival once seen across Goa’s villages. “Today, the Church is opposed to it because it is nothing but a bad tourism product attracting the wrong kind of tourists,” says Savio Thomas, a car salesman.
Many feel that it is time to rework all tourism packages to attract high-value tourists. “During the tourism season [that seems to extend to summer], tourists outnumber the local population. We hate tourists because they are taking away our water and power. Politicians make sure that areas with high tourist turnout face no power or water shortage. This happens at the cost of resident Goans,” grumbles Reginald Faleiro, a local.
If disillusionment with politics marks the feelings of most Goans, it is because they have realised that politicians across the political spectrum have only one agenda—attracting ever larger numbers of tourists. Most of the state’s politicians have financial links with the business of tourism in some form or another. Fed up with all this, many like Father Bismarque believe they have to shed their religious robes and rouse Goans to save Goa before it turns into a lost cause.