The 12th death anniversary commemoration of two tribal leaders who lost their lives in the United Tribal Association Alliance (UTTA) agitation at Balli on May 25, 2011, exposed the sharp divisions within the community and once again brought to centre stage the vexed tribal reservation issue. It was a day of one commemoration in two different ways — one was an official function at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, and the other was a hunger strike at the historic Lohia Maidan.
The official programme at Margao had the firepower with the likes of Govind Gaude and Subhash Faldesai in attendance, not to forget ‘virtual’ presence of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who sent a recorded message. The only notable absence was of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Canacona MLA Ramesh Tawadkar. The ST activists at Lohia Maidan, under the banner of Mission Political Reservations For The Schedule Tribes, were making a point, which was loud and clear — reservation to their community before the Lok Sabha elections.
Incidentally, a stinging verbal attack by Gaude at Margao on the activists at Lohia Maidan terming their effort as “Mission Politics and Mission Hidden Agenda” and that they were not even worthy of sitting near Velip’s slippers only reflected the anger and discontent that is bottled up against the other faction. At Lohia Maidan, activists asked the government of India to issue a notification to reserve the seats for STs in the State before the Lok Sabha elections.
ST reservation has been hanging fire for nearly two decades, and the State government has been put on the mat on various occasions over the issue. The last Legislative Assembly saw an uproar, with Benaulim MLA Venzy Viegas and Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai raising questions over the long delay in announcing reservations and slamming the government for giving “step-motherly” treatment to the community.
It is apparent that the government does not have the will to proceed with the reservation and has been delaying it till the 2027 assembly election to leverage the reservation with delimitation. The State government, otherwise, needs to explain its timeline for 2027, which otherwise appears meaningless.
On Thursday, Sawant’s message was about a call for unity and his government’s support to the community. He spoke of the rights they have been bestowed and the various schemes doled out, but the CM refrained from directly commenting on the reservation issue. The CM’s outreach comes as a balm, but that is not good enough for healing, and it can’t bring about unity given the topic at hand.
The activists who have been fighting a sustained battle for reservation may have come under Gaude’s attack, but they have set a narrative, and, like it or not, it is for their efforts that the issue has been raging. While Gaude’s vitriolic attack may have alleviated those on one side, however, it would also give sympathy to those fighting a grim battle moving from pillar to post for their rights. A delay is only going to hurt those on the other side of the fence.