As a priest, I have no bank account. I will have to open one for the election. I have no money, no vote banks, but I will be the voice of my people.
This is activist priest Fr. Bismarque Dias, 47, who is taking the electoral plunge as an Independent in the Cumbharjua constituency comprising a unique set of picturesque islands in north Goa.
A Catholic priest jumping into electoral battle is quite unusual in Goa. In fact, he is only the second to do so, after Fr. Izidore Mendes, who contested as an Independent candidate and lost in a triangular fight in the 1972 Assembly elections.
He is fully aware that his decision has put the Goa Catholic Church in an embarrassing situation, but as he told The Hindu, “I will go ahead as I am convinced I am doing the right thing. I will not back out.”
His announcement came as a huge surprise to the church, as it is said to be in conflict with church law. However, sources in the Goa Diocesan declined to comment.
Inspired the lives of Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi, Fr. Bismarque believes the Church and other such institutions are meant to serve the people. “I know this is a critical juncture, Goa is losing something; I shall bring new energy to politics of people because for me theology with a social dimension is important,” he says.
“As a young clergyman I know I am doing the right thing. I am not against Church, therefore I do not think it would be right to say Church will have issues. It is only some in the Church hierarchy who are scared. I don't think their fears are justified. I am not craving for power, I am doing this to gain power to serve the people. If good Catholics were there to take care of concerns in the political system I would not enter politics. If the Church were to take firm stand on environmental issues and issues of the poor people's struggle to save their agri-lands, I would not enter elections. Politicians have turned into criminals and we cannot continue to watch helplessly when people are looking for alternatives,” he says.
He is backed by Zagrut Goenkarancho Ekvott (ZGE), a forum of socio-political organisations, which has been taking an active stand along with village groups to protest against the controversial Goa regional Plan 2021, [a State land use plan]. Fr. Bismarque is one of the Independents it is supporting.
Apart from him, the ZGE has decided to field more such candidates across the State with the support of village groups, activists and others in its bid to give an alternative to politicians from both the ruling and Opposition parties, “who have corrupted the system and failed to stand by the people in their struggles.”
Born at Juve St. Istevo island in north Goa, he is a post graduate from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. Fr. Bismarque was ordained into the priesthood in 1996 and after a year in Mumbai he has served in different parts of Goa. One of four siblings of a middle-class family, he attributes his concern for the people and their struggles for life to teachings of his parents, specially his mother.
For well over a year, he has experienced Goa's degeneration and devastation by going around Goa's beaches incognito.
“Dressed like a hippy I have gone around all beaches, seen the degeneration of youth and families through alcoholism and drug menace, rave parties at al. I have seen closely how Goa's youth is getting alienated from social and cultural values in the beach areas,” he says of his concern for Goa and its people.
For some years now, he has been actively involved in social struggles, beginning with the campaign to save Mhadei river (at the centre of the Goa-Karnataka river water dispute); then came the people's movement against Special Economic Zones, villagers' protests against mega-real estate projects, anti-mining agitations, Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption. However, in recent months his activism and public stand against Church's decision to sell off a tiny island that belonged to the Archdiocese to real estate developer and shoteliers brought him into direct confrontation. He has been stopped from conducting Mass and other religious duties.
Undeterred, Fr. Bismarque says he sees no difference between serving the Church and serving the people, and his decision to plunge into politics was a response to a situation of crisis in Goa's body politic.
He explains that while taking up issues of the people with government departments, what struck him was the massive corruption, total lack of transparency and the complete disdain for people. This is what made him decide to fight the elections.