Less than a month after Palanivel Thiagarajan became M.K.Stalin’s finance minister in the new Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu, the legislator from Madurai has attracted much national attention, including an ardent following in Goa. The 55-year-old’s unexpected notoriety in India’s smallest state erupted last weekend, after its transport minister Mauvin Godinho complained to the media that Thiagarajan “insulted the people of Goa” at the national Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting on 28 May, where the two represent their states.
Those allegations probably reached Thiagarajan just a few hours later, because at 1.25am on Sunday, he tweeted, “Full Statement coming. For now, let me say enduring the noise from this empty vessel y’day was worst TORTURE of my political career.” At 9.36am, he unleashed an extraordinary ‘Statement to the People of Goa’ that has few—if any—precedents in contemporary Indian history. Ornamented by an entertainingly idiosyncratic syntax, it was sub-titled, “The Hallmark of Character is Consistency in one’s principles, even at a cost” and “Empty vessels make the most noise.” Thiagarajan directly addressed the people who Godinho purports to represent: “I have done you no harm. In fact, I have strongly advocated for your State Government’s rights.” But that was not all. Evincing the spirit of transparency and candour, Thiagarajan informed Goan voters that Godinho’s statements on their behalf had been “highly repetitive, largely vacuous, hectoring, mostly redundant to others’ inputs, supercilious, and devoid of the basic courtesy of assuming good faith in the comments of other states’ Ministers.” He said, “The only question arising from your transport minister’s press conference is whether he is limited in comprehension, in honesty, or both, [but] if doubt lingers, I add that he was vociferously, and repeatedly, against lowering the GST on COVID-related Drugs & Vaccines from 5% to 0% on humanitarian grounds.”
Thiagarajan proceeded to “offer you my sincere condolences, for having such a person as your Minister. I also charge the Hon’ble CM of Goa with perpetrating a misdemeanour on Goa’s citizens, and the GST Council, by nominating him to represent your beautiful state. Finally, I sincerely request the [Bharatiya Janata Party], even across the political divide, to impose some minimal quality control on its ‘MLA Acquisition’ procedures. If it had done so, Goa, and the Nation would be saved a lot of pain.”
Immediately after this spectacular takedown appeared online, Goa’s social media erupted with delight which still hasn’t quite subsided. Even more telling, says Valmiki Naik of the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party, Goa, “is the fact that not a single one of Godinho’s own colleagues in the government or party has come to his defence.” An earnest 40-something, Naik has twice gamely contested—and badly lost—elections for Panjim, the pocket-sized capital of Goa that was previously represented by Manohar Parrikar, India’s former defence minister whose personality continues to dominate state politics even after his 2018 death.
At this point, alleges Naik, “We have a democratically elected government only in name, but in reality it is more of a confederacy of individual satraps. Godinho, and most of his colleagues, are quasi-kings in their constituencies, where elections are a mere formality. All of them joined the BJP for the sole purpose of being in power. And Manohar Parrikar enabled this structure, where anyone is welcome as long as they brought enough MLAs for him to become chief minister.”
For most of his career, Parrikar managed to keep this deck of wild cards under control. But once he fell ill, chaos ensued, and then accelerated into a nightmare of misgovernance during the covid pandemic.
Naik says, “For me, the absolute nadir was on 13 May, when the high court bench said, ‘We are very sorry’ for oxygen-related deaths. Most high courts around the country have rapped the state, or even the Centre, and whipped them into action. But in Goa, even the high court gave up on our government knowing how completely useless and incompetent it is.”
But that was the only the latest high court warning about this Goa administration’s failure to work for the public interest. In an especially vivid 2018 ruling on mining, the justices said, “We are surprised at the vehemence at which the State has asserted the right of the mining lease holders in these proceedings. The State must keep in mind that it acts as a trustee of the people for the natural resources. In discharge of this duty, it has to keep the interest of the citizens at heart as the first priority.” They ruefully concluded, “We had to literally push the State to do something to alleviate the suffering of the innocent mining affected. This sharp contrast in respect of the two ends of mining spectrum [is] too stark for us not to notice. We write it here because it pains our conscience.”
There is a direct connection between those judicial statements and what Thiagarajan has exposed so sensationally in Godinho’s actions, according to Naik: “It is unconscionable that Goa’s minister actually opposed the GST waiver on covid essentials such as vaccines, medicines, and oxygen concentrators, that make the difference between life and death. Such a decision should have been unanimous. But our government, along with the Centre, did not want to miss an opportunity to tax the highest selling goods at the moment, and continue to suck the common man dry.”
Vivek Menezes is a Goa-based writer and photographer
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