Is South Goa’s Christian Face Changing Fast?

Excerpts from a forthcoming book "Double Engine: History of South Goa Elections" by Sandesh Prabhudesai

The South Goa Lok Sabha constituency always remained Christian-dominated, especially with Salcete and Mormugao talukas of the Old Conquest holding 12 Assembly segments out of 20. No doubt Hindus were the majority also in the South district. But except for the commercial city of Margao and the port town of Mormugao, Christians were either a majority or a strong united vote bank in the remaining 10 Assembly segments of both the talukas. 

The game-changer impact of this was strongly felt at the historic Opinion Poll. Tables were turned when the counting of Salcete and Mormugao began. While Goan identity was retained with an overall margin of 34,000 votes at the state level, these two talukas had provided a huge margin of around 50,000 votes. Precisely due to this, despite ruling the state for 16 years, the MGP could never win the Lok Sabha election of South Goa, except for the first tightrope battle of 1963. Of course, since 2007, the party has gone into the hands of Dhavalikars, who align either with the Congress or the BJP and negotiate their Assembly seats and ministerial positions. In return, they don’t contest the Lok Sabha polls. 

During the tenure of Bhausaheb Bandodkar or Shashikala Kakodkar and even when Ramakant Khalap or Dr Kashinath Jalmi were the opposition leaders, the MGP was never a Hindutva party but socialist in nature. Now, the hardcore Hindutva party has won the South Goa seat twice: Ramakant Angle in 1999 and Narendra Sawaikar in 2014. In 2019, Sawaikar lost the battle against Congress MP Francisco Sardinha merely by 9800 votes. South Goa constituency has always been a model for Goa, where Hindu-Christian-Mulsims were electing their MP together, in tune with the state’s communal harmony. This trend seems to be changing at a very fast pace.

The Demographic Turnaround  

The nature of Christian domination has slowly started changing all across Goa’s political turf, mainly due to three factors: 1) Urbanisation of Hindus from the New Conquests to the city centres of the Old Conquests, 2) Huge amount of in-migration of labour and trading class, mostly belonging to the non-Christian faiths like Hindus and Muslims, and 3) Continued exodus of Goans, largely Christians, outside Goa and India, even by giving up Indian citizenship and their voting rights. 

All these three factors impacted South Goa the most, with the port town of Vasco and the commercial town of Margao becoming the prime locations for the migrants coming from outside and within Goa. Also, a maximum number of out-migration, especially of the Christian community, has occurred in the taluka of Salcete. On the other hand, the in-migration consists largely of the Hindu community, followed by a small number of Muslims. Comparatively, the number of non-Goan Christians migrating from places like Kerala or Jharkhand is negligible. Also, many Hindu Goans are migrating to the towns of Vasco and Margao from the talukas of Canacona, Quepem and Sanguem. This has resulted in the villages adjacent to these towns turning into suburban townships. They fall into the one-time Christian-dominated Assembly segments like Navelim, Curtorim, Fatorda, Nuvem and Benaulim. Also, a newly carved Assembly segment of Dabolim and also Cortalim in Mormugao taluka. 

However, urbanisation in the South Goa constituency does not affect the Lok Sabha polls since the urbanised voters belong to the same constituency. In spite of this, there is a consistent rise of Hindus and a frequent drop of Christians in South Goa. The chart “South Goa Population: 1960-2011” clearly shows the consistency in demographic changes. All are not voters, but the proportionate number of voting population is almost similar. However, since no census was conducted after 2011, we have no authentic figures of the last 13 years.

In fact, the new Census report would have helped to know the huge number of exodus of the Christian community leaving with Portuguese passports and also the elites from the Hindu community surrendering their Indian citizenship to settle down in the US and other countries. Their exact number is still not known. However, in the recently concluded Assembly session, Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant revealed that “around 10,029 Indian passports have been surrendered in the last five years by persons who have obtained Portuguese citizenship.”

Source: Census of India

The Christian population is concentrated mainly in the two talukas of Salcete and Mormugao. The Portuguese conquered the four talukas of Ponda, Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona in the 18th century when no religious conversions occurred. When the Portuguese ruled the ‘whole of Goa’ for around 175 to 197 years, a large chunk of the Hindu population migrated to the major towns, including Margao and Mormugao. But, comparatively, a very small number of Christians migrated to the New Conquests for livelihood. Due to this, at the time of liberation in 1961, the Hindus were spread out in all six talukas of South Goa – from the lowest of 22 per cent in Salcete to 89 per cent in Ponda. In contrast, the Christians were hardly 10 per cent in Ponda and 75 per cent in Salcete. 

As per the 1960 Census, South Goa had 51 per cent Hindus and 47 per cent Christians. The gap was hardly four per cent, around 14,000 to be precise. The Hindus numbered around 1.52 lakh against the Christian population of around 1.39 lakh. Today, in the 2011 census, the gap has widened. There are 60 per cent Hindus and 31 per cent Christians.  In terms of numbers, the Hindus are around 4.80 lakh, while Christians are 2.46 lakh. The gap has widened from 14,000 to around 2.34 lakh in five decades. Sans the 2021 Census, all of us know beyond doubt that this gap has widened much further due to the huge exodus of the Christian community and the in-migration of outsiders, which are predominantly Hindus (and also Muslims to some extent). 

Hindu Population Rising in Salcete & Mormugao

Due to this, is the one-time powerful vote bank of Christians slowly losing its ‘political power’ in the electoral politics of South Goa? And the bogey of the rising Muslim population, the ‘real truth’, or a misguiding exercise of hate politics? To know the truth, I had conducted a similar exercise after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll at a preliminary level. However, this elaborate exercise opens our eyes much wider to the shark realities. (Click here to read the 2019 article)

Source: Census of India

The graph “Hindus in South Goa:1961-2011” clearly proves that except in Ponda taluka, the Hindu population has risen consistently in the rest of the five talukas, including Salcete and Mormugao. In fact, the rise in Mormugao is huge, by 25 per cent, followed by 13 per cent in Salcete. And in spite of urbanisation from the talukas of Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona, the Hindu population in these talukas has not shown a steep decline. 

TALUKAS 1960 1991 2001 2011
Mormugao 14292 74151 94151 100239
Salcete 26134 62714 85660 101921
Ponda 51054 108806 126128 138705
Quepem 19056 40245 47199 51783
Sanguem 24497 47202 47874 51372
Canacona 17181 31994 34819 36349
SOUTH GOA 152214 365112 435831 480369
GOA STATE 384379 756621 886551 963877

Source: Census of India

The table “South Goa Hindu Population” speaks much louder. Within three decades, from 1961 to 1991, the number of Hindus in Ponda doubled, from around 50,000 to over one lakh. And by 2011, it was nearly triple the number: 1.39 lakh. By now, it must have crossed the triple mark. 

And which taluka has the second largest Hindu population? It’s Salcete! From 26,000 in 1961, it has crossed the one lakh mark in five decades. Four times more! Even Mormugao taluka ranks after Salcete. But that’s not a small rise. From a mere 14,000 in 1961, Hindus have crossed the one-lakh mark. The rise by seven times!! 

Comparatively, the rise of the Hindus in Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona is negligible. They increased from 61,000 in 1961 to around 1.40 lakhs in 2011. A little more than double. It’s a myth that South Goa is Christian-dominated due to Salcete and Mormugao. Today, half of Goa’s Hindu population is settled in the South Goa constituency!!!

Christian Population Shrinking Fast 

The chart “Christians in South Goa: 1961-2011” clearly indicates a consistent decline in the Christian population in South Goa. The percentage of Mormugao slipped from 54 per cent in 1961 to 22 per cent in 2011. Less than one-fourth! In Salcete, from two-thirds of the Christian population (75%) in 1961, the five decades showed a steep decline to half mark (54%) in 2011. The one-time mighty force of the minority is fading out very fast, not knowing how much it has dipped down in the last 12 years. 

Source: Census of India

Salcete, however, still continues to be the heartland of the Christian community of Goa. Out of 2.46 lakh Christians of South Goa, over 1.58 lakh reside in the Salcete Taluka — nearly 64 per cent, as per the 2011 Census. But in terms of voters, it slipped to 60 per cent in the 2017 Assembly election. The table “South Goa Religion Breakup: 2017” clearly indicates the actual number of voters. It is being prepared by Vivek Mordekar, Goa’s one of the leading IT professionals, by going through the electoral roll. It clearly shows that in many Assembly segments, Hindus have either overscored the Christians or have reached close to it. In Mormugao taluka, Hindus have surpassed Christians in all four Assembly segments. And in Salcete, it is overscoring in four segments out of eight. It is known that the Christian population is below 30 per cent in the rest of the talukas.

Nuvem 87 11 1
Benaulim 86 11 2
Velim 78 18 4
Curtorim 64 27 8
Cuncolim 54 40 6
Navelim 40 39 21
Fatorda 42 48 10
Margao 23 56 21
TOTAL 60 31 9
Cortalim 44 48 8
Dabolim 22 67 11
Vasco 15 66 19
Mormugao 11 73 16
TOTAL 24 63 14

Source: Vivek Mordekar, IT Professional

Muslims Emerging as a Vote Bank

There is a continuous hammering going on by the communal elements in Goa that the number of Muslims is increasing in a BIG way, and they are the real threat to the age-old political scenario of Goa. But the official Census figures speak otherwise. The “South Goa Muslim Population: 1961-2011” table speaks for itself. The Muslim population was so negligible in Goa that it could not make any political impact. Precisely due to this, we have had only two Muslim MLAs to date: Abdul Razak of the UGP from Curchorem in 1967 and four-time MLA Shaikh Hassan Haroon of the Congress from Mormugao since 1977. 

Source: Census of India

But the scenario is changing now. Though not all-powerful, the Muslim community is emerging as an influential vote bank that cannot be neglected any more in elections. From a mere two per cent in 1961, it has now crossed the figure of 10 per cent in the South Goa constituency. But it continues to be a much smaller number compared to 60 per cent Hindus and 30 per cent Christians. It’s concentrated in certain political pockets. This community of small traders is seen settled in and around the commercial towns of Goa. It has reached 13 per cent in Mormugao taluka and 11 per cent in Salcete, as per the 2011 Census. In Ponda taluka, it is eight per cent, but it is concentrated mainly in Ponda town and becomes impactful during elections.  

TALUKAS 1960 1991 2001 2011
Mormugao 1849 12656 16736 19724
Salcete 3010 13846 24029 33522
Ponda 681 5995 9494 12542
Quepem 469 2731 3922 5303
Sanguem 743 2870 3438 4311
Canacona 108 479 702 763
SOUTH GOA 6860 38577 58321 76165
GOA STATE 14600 61455 92210 121564

Source: Census of India

Today, the largest chunk of the Muslim community is seen in Salcete, but around 34,000. They simply cannot compete with the over 1.58 lakh Christians and one lakh Hindus. The Muslim population has not even neared one lakh in the whole of South Goa, against two and a half lakh Christian population and nearly five lakh Hindu population. The sensible voter of Goa needs to comprehend these figures and introspect over their hateful behaviour towards the Muslim community of Goa.

In short, Salcete is slowly losing its identity as a Christian bastion of Goa. Till yesterday, this taluka was a balancing factor for Hindu-Christian unity in Goa’s political arena. Fortunately, to date, the Hindu community of Goa has not fully surrendered to the Hindutva politics of the BJP, due to which they have to form the government by borrowing Congress legislators. And the testing ground for religious polarisation is the Lok Sabha election. South Goa, thus, holds the key for tomorrow’s Goa!

(This article was published as a cover story of the Panorama page of The Navhind Times on 25 February 2024)

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