"The victory of Goans in the 1967 Opinion Poll, whereby the proposal to merge Goa with Maharastra was rejected with Goans asserting their right to their own separate identity and the declaration of Statehood in 1987, is becoming meaningless in view of the fact that Goans are about to become a minority within the borders of Goa".

Call it a threat if you will, but Nitish Kumar has made it clear that only those who feel for backward states will rule at Delhi after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and it looks like the Congress is dancing to his tune. One more signal that for Goa, Special Status will be in the realm of academic discussions and political brownie points. After all, when Goa had pressed its claim under the Gadgil Formula when Pranab Kumar Mukherjee was the finance minister, he had shot it down pointing out that Goa's GDP being one of the highest in the county, it did not qualify.

All the North-Eastern states have been given Special Status, and of them, Nagaland because its population is mainly tribal. Even going by this criterion, Goa qualifies because Scheduled tribes, Scheduled Castes, Gounlis and OBCs (Other Backward Classes) constitute over 60 per cent of the population. But Goa has been demanding the status to protect its land, culture, minerals. Floriano Lobo, an activist supporting the Movement for Special Status to Goa (MSSG), told GS, If Goa is not given Special Status, its unique identity will be lost. The movement has picked up urgency in recent years ever since people from outside Goa decided to set down roots here and that triggered a building mania that has been indiscriminate.

Outnumbered, outwitted, outbidded

At a gram sabha of the Moira Panchayat on January 27, 2013, the proposal for Special Status was discussed and at the end of it, it was resolved to write to the President, Prime Minister and CM. The resolution said, Fifty years down the line the situation is tragic to say the least. From a population of around 6,00,000 in 1961, it is around 15,00,000 in 2012 and keeps increasing by leaps and bounds despite the fact that Goans have been migrating in droves and the natural increase in the Goan population is minimal.

All votaries from civil society point out that the increase in population is mainly due to the 'uncontrolled' influx of migrants into Goa who find employment in labour-intensive units which have been allowed to be set up here. There's a conspiracy here because it is well known that Goa does not possess a large labour force required by the construction industry. Besides, the industry is dominated by firms based outside Goa which are erecting mega housing projects catering to the rich and powerful of India and where the Goan is unable to find a place of abode due to the exorbitant prices charged. This has resulted in a change in the demographic profile of Goa.

At an interactive workshop on 'Special Status for Goa, Article 371', held in Margao on March 20, 2011, the convenor of Asha Family Responsibilities & Rights Association, Rui Da Gama, had alleged that land sharks from Delhi and other parts of the country were 'quoting' the land rates in Goa. The land is in Goa, but the land title is in Delhi, he had said. Lobo says, "The victory of Goans in the 1967 Opinion Poll, whereby the proposal to merge Goa with Maharastra was rejected with Goans asserting their right to their own separate identity and the declaration of Statehood in 1987, is becoming meaningless in view of the fact that Goans are about to become a minority within the borders of Goa.

I have a dream

It was the late Matanhy Saldanha's long-standing dream for Goa to get Special Status. As chairperson of Goa's Movement for Special Status (GMSS), he revived the demand for Special Status in October 2008. He had told the media in December 2011, Jawaharlal Nehru promised Special Status first, his daughter Indira Gandhi also promised it and now Sonia Gandhi promised us (while campaigning here), but nobody has honoured this promise. His argument was that Goa should have been conferred Special Status when it got statehood in 1987. The Congress leaders ruling Goa and the Centre then, failed in this probably because by then, they had developed a personal interest which can be seen in the fact that national level Congress politicians have become owners of properties in Goa, Saldanha had said.

One year after he died, all that has happened is that there is GMSS and MSSG and the twain have not met, metaphorically speaking. While Matanhy's wife, Alina, the current minister for forests and environment, feels the MSSG, which was born on July 7 last year with Antonio Lobo as the convenor, should merge with her late husband's outfit, it is not accepted by everyone. What are the terms of reference for the merger? asks Lobo. For the Navelim meeting this January 26, he claims he coaxed Alina into putting in an appearance. But there's a feeling that she is not co-operating, she is not interested at all and the phrase hijacking of agendas has been mentioned frequently. But on February 23, one of the founder members and office bearers of GMSS, Shashi Kamat, clarified that, The idea of merger came from Antonio Lobo first and then from Floriano Lobo but till date there has been no move from them in this direction.

However, Alina has made it clear that she along with GMSS is pursuing the dream of her late husband Matanhy Saldanha. She is the guiding light, Prajal Sakhardande, GMSS president, and also a convenor for MSSG, told GS. He does agree that she maintained a low profile on the issue because of her period of mourning. He met Parrikar on the eve of Matanhy's first death anniversary on March 21 to press for an Assembly resolution on Special Status for Goa, says: Unchecked migration into Goa is leading to ruthless development on hills and other areas where construction is prohibited. His recent petition to the CM is the third. He had earlier given him a copy of the memorandum presented to the President of India in 2010 (also presented in 2008 by GMSS).

We do not want financial aid, all we want is Special Status to preserve our cultural identity, Prajal Sakhardande said. Goa is a mix of two different cultures and this makes our identity unique, which is dying. We also do not have the carrying capacity if the teeming millions from across the country say they love Goa and keep migrating here, he says. He says that there also has to be a check on those entering the state as there is in other states with Special Status like Himachal Pradesh. We are not against migrants, but Goa already has one of the highest population densities in the country, says John Lobo, the GMSS, secretary.

At a meeting in July last year, a wide section of civil activists agreed that Matanhy did start the GMSS but while there was a debate on continuing it, it was an unanimous decision to make a fresh start with MSSG. But the fact that the demand for the Special Status has not moved from seminar halls and memoranda to the President/PM/CM says a lot.

Faint-hearted won no fair lady

The political initiative to get Goa Special Status has also been faint hearted. At the July 7, 2013 meeting, civil activists and politicians came together to kick-start the demand but nearly a year later, nothing has come of it. Late last year, CM Manohar Parrikar said his government would move a resolution in the Budget session demanding it. It has not happened so far activists jeer saying the BJP 'has no stomach' to pass the resolution although he has gone on record to say Goa needed Special Status to control the mindless sale of land and its consequent impact on land prices, which was 'alienating locals in their own land'.

Parrikar, who met the Prime Minister on August 17 last year, said he had articulated the demand at the National Development Council meeting. He is very clear that Goa is not asking for financial status but to arm itself against diluting its identity through sale of land. Today if a Goan wants to buy land because his family is expanding, he cannot. While we are coming up with a law to prevent sale of agricultural land, other land too is scarce in Goa. He pointed out 'The prices were shooting up with foreigners and corporate houses buying huge chunks of land in Goa'.

MP Shantaram Naik concurs. He said in the Rajya Sabha last year that foreign land mafias were usurping and exploiting scarce land resources in Goa and triggering a 'social and economic chaos'. Naik had tabled a private member's bill in the Rajya Sabha on April 27,2012, saying: Rights existing under the Constitution should not be so unfettered so as to change the economic scenario of a small state, particularly its villages, much to the disadvantage of its people. Anti-social elements, which become a part of such uncontrolled transactions, are proving disastrous for Goa. His bill had called for appropriate legislations to bring in restrictions on transfer of land and other immovable properties on grounds of duration of residential requirement.

Like Naik, Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, an invitee at the July, 2012 meeting, said that he was ready to do a more thorough job of it again (referring to the bill he had withdrawn before tabling it in the Legislative Assembly) and that he was all for getting Special Status. The Deputy CM Francis D'Souza told the meeting that Goans have to act against getting drowned, a consequence that is already happening with 'outsiders' coming in.

The brainstorming at the July 7 meeting concluded that Nehru's promises made to safeguard the culture, ethos and identity of the Goan are about to become a dead letter unless the central government stepped in. The meeting minced no words: The issue of preservation and nurture of Goan identity is paramount and failure to do so would be tantamount to a violation of the human rights of the Goan people to survive as a viable entity and would also be a violation of the United Nations Charter and its principles with regard to erstwhile colonies.

But at this moment, all Goa has is demands being made aplenty from all and sundry because it is politically correct, and because Goa's plentiful armchair activists are willing to write enthusiastically and one particular newspaper is delighted to oblige. The latest being the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.There is a need to take up the Special Status issue afresh with the centre, GCCI said this month. But Special Status for Goa is an idea that is nowhere on the horizon.