Navigating the turbulent waves of a hung assembly, Goa Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eventually landed ashore to a proven majority at Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s helmsmanship. Having failed to emerge as the single largest party in Goa, if Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) humiliating defeat was any relief for the BJP, then Congress’ claim to a popular mandate perturbed it.
Though the ghar-wapsi of Manohar Parrikar as the Chief Minister of Goa is a quick fix, clearing a floor test was smaller of the problems that the party faces ahead in a state where many believe it has lost the people’s mandate. Several sections of Goans have been griping on social media about how the BJP has formed “a legally legitimate but morally illegitimate government”, with the hashtag #NotmyCM being used to defy Parrikar.
In a backdrop of rising ‘culture protectionism’ in Goa, casinos have formed a deep fault-line within its electorate. Sensing this populist tide, both Congress and AAP, in coherence with regional parties, pledged to ban casinos in their election manifesto.
Goa, with six offshore and a dozen onshore casinos, is the only state besides Sikkim and Daman & Diu that permits gambling. Casinos were opened up in Goa during the 1990s under Congress rule in a bid to boost tourism.
The BJP first attacked casinos during its 2007 election campaign, describing them as dens of corruption and vice. But, being in power since 2012, the Laxmikant Parsekar-led BJP government embraced hard-learned pragmatism towards gambling; that it was a multi-million dollar industry contributing over Rs 100 crore in taxes. Besides, casinos employ around 3000 workers and attract a sizeable section of Goa’s three million tourists annually. Hence shutting casinos down might well be self-sabotage.
BJP’s foot-dragging approach to the issue of casinos is not new. In December 2016, Maharashtra state home department, headed by CM Devendra Fadnavis, shied away from giving clearance to a floating proposal for offshore casinos in Mumbai. Notably, the shipping ministry under Nitin Gadkari has shed away all reluctance to bring in reforms to promote ‘cruise tourism’ and boost coastal economies, with Goa being readied to receive 60 cruises.
Even a remote Sikkim has noticed an uptick in tourists and revenue ever since it permitted only a few casinos 2009 onwards. With several other states mulling to legalise gambling, most notably Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra Pradesh weighing up casino-resorts in the port city of Vizag, must Goa not scrabble to maintain its primacy?
One must wonder why revenue-boosting, job-creating casinos have become such a tightrope walk for the Goa government? The answer could lie in how consecutive governments failed to balance the act.
Most workers employed by Goan casinos are believed to be migrants from neighbouring states. Thus, introducing a job quota for native Goans in the casino industry would be conciliatory, to begin with.
The Parrikar government should also act swiftly to fulfil its promise of moving offshore casinos out of River Mandovi, which had compromised the interests of both environmentalists and the fishing community. Although, corporate interests too should be balanced by allowing these casinos to resume business onshore, as moving them into deeper waters would be impractical and unsafe.
Guidelines for waste disposal and eco-friendly operation of casinos should be framed in consultation with the Goa State Pollution Control Board.
Additionally, when money laundering and gambling debts are a source of concern, the government better be roused into action by the status quo – underground gambling has already plunged many of its takers into debt while laundering the ill-gotten wealth of others. It is noteworthy that local Goans are prohibited from entering casinos to check gambling addiction.
The excesses of gambling, much like alcoholism, can only be offset by keeping it into the legal fold – licensing, regulation and taxation together with rehabilitation support constitute the ideal apparatus to preside over an otherwise murky market.
Speaking of casinos and Indian culture, revisiting our history reveals how gambling has long been a socially acceptable reality in India – from being a necessary ritual for the king during Vedic ceremonies to being prescribed on Bali Pratipada and Laxmi Puja as ‘Dyuta Krida’. Interestingly, when lottery, another avatar of gambling, can be perfectly acceptable in Goa, why stifle a burgeoning tourism industry owing to misplaced moralism?
Barring occasional dancing to petty populist tunes, the BJP knows it needs to maintain at large its pro-development agenda clubbed with Modi’s pro-reform appeal. And being pro-development translates to pro-business policies, an umbrella that covers casino licensing.
Furthermore, the judicial endorsement provided by Justice Lodha committee’s recommendations – UK-style nationwide legalisation of regulated betting and gambling to prevent ongoing money laundering and sports fraud – should be used as a reformist refuge by the government to silence moralist monitors, instead of tiptoeing around their populist prowess.
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