Mining in Goa and Odisha and the CPI, Then and Now: Hartman de Souza

Guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA. The article was written a few days before April 12, the CPI’s day of solidarity with Odisha mine workers.

When the Goa State Committee of the erstwhile Communist Party of India (CPI) and its national secretary, our very own Comrade Christopher Fonseca, tells you that April 12th will be observed all over India as a day of solidarity with the Adivasi people of Odisha struggling for seven years to save more than 4000 acres of their ancestral lands from falling to mining conglomerates as rapacious as their Goan counterparts, ageing leftists in the village bar are not too sure whether they should laugh or just weep.

Perhaps one needs to paint the larger picture to highlight the irony that lurks in the shadows.

There was a time it needs to be said, when the CPI ran a long, hard and lonely battle in Goa, led by Comrade George Vaz who it is hard to believe was once Comrade Fonseca’s mentor. He was a short, somewhat portly, soft-spoken, widely-travelled man fluent in at least four languages. Not many Goans would know that Comrade Vaz ran a free kitchen in his home at Assenora open to anyone in need of a simple, nourishing meal, or that some of us who now want to weep in our glasses have eaten there several times…

As some of us say when we sip our first drink, perhaps it was a different era altogether – when ‘ideology’ was more than just a word simplistically used by most to denote ‘extremism’, or, as we now see with the CPI in Goa, a tool that does little to hide their basic hypocrisy if not dishonesty. Perhaps it was also an era when older Goan intellectuals were far readier to put their necks on the line and fan the flames of those younger. Now, we say in the bar, most of them over the age of fifty are either ‘tired’ or ‘retired’.

In this larger picture, as we sip our second for the night, we recall with bittersweet memories a good friend of Comrade Vaz, the late Comrade Mark Fernandes of Calangute, who joined the CPI in Karachi and came down to Mumbai, stayed a few nights in a railway carriage parked for the night in Dadar, then came to Goa to join the more militant factions fighting the fascist Portuguese government of the time. He came with no money, just the hope of goodwill.

It was Mark who told us how he was captured, beaten, and made to sit on a block of ice after a Portuguese captain had stuffed ground red chillies into his rectum. It was also Mark who gave us Ernst Fischer’s The Necessity of Art to read and nagged us to see the films of Bergman.

Given its long history and involvement in the mining industry, and its recent somewhat calculated deceptions, it may be worthwhile to recall that the CPI in Goa from the 1960s onwards was far better organized, and far more importantly, that the wider ideological debate then centred on the rights of indigenous Goan tribal labour working at the mines, prior to the mechanization that later came in.

One can only assume that had it not been for the late Comrade Vaz, a man of great integrity who steered the union for more than two decades, it is more than likely the mining families, given the recent history of their illicit practices, may have been less than fair with their working persons’ wages, work conditions and rights.

From the end of the 1970s in any case, the union’s strength had already been undermined, and the work at the mines outsourced to former employees who had turned themselves from workers and workers’ representatives into truck owners.

In fairness, the once gallant CPI in Goa had not yet been made toothless and waylaid and subsumed as it is now, into the murky world of  mining and other workers’ in today’s soiled Goan context, own how many trucks and how, in spite of the law being broken, we are now told that such livelihoods need to be protected and indeed, continued.

Today, sadly, the militancy of the CPI in Goa seems intact only in the pro-mining mobs it is able to muster while its once lofty ideological moorings lie shredded. It actually calls these poor souls ‘Mining Dependent’, thereby, to keep its own redundant existence alive, sullying even the basic principles that brought it into being.

In fact, these are the men who want the money to come in to finish either paying the loans for the trucks they bought, or to repay the loans taken to build the new houses that overnight, thanks to  illegal prosperity, have mushroomed in the Mining Belt, encroaching on land that successive Goan governments have steadfastly refused to notify as forest.

Such people are better referred to as the Mining Addicted.

These are trucks which, in any case, everyone now knows were bought solely with down-payments made by the mining magnates through their contractors or with loans given by Goan co-operative and other banks, so that right down the line, everyone involved in the trade could make money illegally transporting ore, illegally mined – and not as some now fallaciously hold, trucks that were legally transporting illegal ore.

While such casuistry would put even medieval monks to shame, such dishonesty typifies both the Mining Industry and the Mining Addicted in Goa.

While we say our salaams to each other outside the bar and walk homewards we also hope Comrade Fonseca, like us, recalling his mentor, will join the people of the mining destroyed parts of Goa, scorning the economically correct rationalizations justifying mining in the name of creating wealth and jobs, saying unequivocally, that the mining never comes back.

We also know the late Comrade George Vaz and our dear friend Mark would have led a march of thousands to the legislative assembly, brushing aside Goa’s pliant police force, and demanding that the government recover every single paisa of the 1,400 lakh crore, yes, the 1,400 lakh crore that the Mining Industry and at least two dozen politicians looted, and that these crooks be jailed forthwith.

He would have known what shivers this would send down the spines of the crony capitalists in Odisha and elsewhere, and how this would galvanize a peoples’ struggle.

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