The price of freedom

Margaret Mascarenhas

 

The other day I read a letter to the editor in one of the local newspapers by Lambert Mascarenhas. It was an impassioned plea calling for fellow Goans, and, in particular, freedom fighters, to oppose the establishment of Goa as the Indian alternative to Cannes. Thereby opening up the subject to what may turn into a heated public debate. I’m all for public debate; it is a crucial component of the democratic process, which, after all, is what Mr Mascarenhas and his freedom fighter colleagues fought for. With all due respect to Mr Mascarenhas, whom I hold in great esteem as a leader and thinker, I believe he may have jumped the gun on this one. Here’s why:

 

First of all, we still don’t have enough information about what this proposal entails to take an informed decision on whether to be for or against it. It has become a hallmark of the Parrikar government to throw its plans for Goa out into the public arena and then step back and wait for the public to react. And this has proved a brilliant method of forcing an otherwise pathologically apathetic public to consider and express where it stands on issues. It has also been Mr Parrikar’s policy throughout his incumbency to listen to all arguments and accurately gauge the merits and strength of opposition before taking decisions.

 

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the BJP at large, and that I find all those RSS guys marching militantly around in shorts absurd and, frankly, quite scary.  I would prefer it if Mr Parrikar himself were more congenial in manner and didn’t belong to any party or organization that is tainted with communal overtone.  I would definitely prefer it if he weren’t all pal-ly with the likes of Narendra Modi. But having said that, and having observed his governing style for over a year, I will now also say that I still prefer to see Mr Parrikar at the helm of Goa’s affairs.  I trust his genuine interest in the welfare of Goa, and his development policies, over ANY of the Chief Ministers who have previously governed the state. If it weren’t for the chilling right-wing ideology that backs him, I would even prefer him not to have his hands tied by a coalition government. Why? Because he is personally incorruptible. Because being personally incorruptible, his development agendas, however appropriate or inappropriate, have nothing to do with his personal bank account. Because he is educated, open to the ideas of others, has given unprecedented support to NGOs working in environment and conservation. Because, whenever I go into a government office, I have been able to get my work done in record time and without being asked to pay a bribe, or ask a minister for a favour. Because Panjim has never looked better. Because the roads and other infrastructural elements of Goa have improved significantly. Because the Goa police have their respect back and are increasingly able to function as they should.

 

So, given Mr Parrikar’s track record, I’d be inclined to believe that he has researched the subject of the Film Festival, its viability and desirability, in far more depth than any of his opponents.

 

Anna Maria Goswami from GHAG phoned me the other day to ask whether I’d be willing to contribute to a book they are putting out, and during the course of the conversation, the Film Festival issue came up. “But Goa doesn’t even have a movie-going crowd,” she said. This is an objection I have heard now several times from different quarters. Apart from the fact that our reluctance to spend time in movie theatres may be due to the fact that you can’t sit in a Goan movie theatre without getting bugs up your ass and being overwhelmed by the stench of piss, this is hardly the point. The Goa Film Festival would be an International Festival. You don’t decide to build a road on the basis of how many people in the immediate vicinity physically drive cars. You don’t develop a 5-star hotel industry for locals who have their own houses. The Cannes Film Festival is not located in Cannes because the majority of the people in Cannes are film maniacs.

The questions to be asked and answered with facts are these:

  1. Will it be good for the economy of the state? And, if so, how will the benefits be passed on to the average citizen? For example, would the building of the infratructural set-up benefit Goans (better infrastructural facilities for us); would the Film Festival generate a significant degree of employment in the state; would cost/standard of living for average Goans go up, go down, remain the same?
  2. How will it affect the environment of the state? For example, would the resulting tourism in the state be of a better or worse calibre than what we’ve currently got? Would it mean we’d get action on waste and public health management in the state (because, let’s face it; Goa is not Cannes, and people aren’t going to want to come here to look at the garbage and get dengue fever).
  3. What will the cultural impact be? I think even Lambert Mascarenhas would have to agree that one of the tragic outcomes of “freedom” from colonial rule is that a vast majority of today’s Goan youth don’t know the difference between their heritage and their belly-buttons. Most cannot list a single freedom fighter of Goa, whereas they can list a hundred Hindi film stars. Goan culture has already been infiltrated by everything from Hindi pop to MTV and drug cartels to foreign pedophile groups, which have severely and adversely impacted our culture. Loss of cultural identity has already taken place; it is the price we have paid for “freedom”, economic progress, technology, and a highly corrupt governmental history since the formation of the state. How much worse can it get?