Everyone has a right to differ with government of the day
A controversy has erupted in the state over the statement made by the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao on the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Archbishop urged the central government to immediately and unconditionally revoke the CAA and stop suppressing the right to dissent. He also appealed to the central government not to implement the proposed countrywide National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens. The controversy started after Panchayat Minister Mauvin Godinho questioned the right of the Archbishop as head of a religious body to question a government decision. “No religious head has got a right to interfere in the governance of a state or a country or to comment as that will take opposition to the government on communal lines,” Godinho said.
However, his colleague Michael Lobo, the Ports Minister was quick to rebut Godinho, asking him to refrain from making any remark against the Archbishop and to keep his mouth shut if he disagreed with him. Ever since the Archbishop made the statement, leaders of different political parties have supported or criticised him. The controversy appears to have divided the ruling party, with at least three of its senior leaders – Lobo, Filipe Nery Rodrigues, the Water Resources Minister and Glen Ticlo, the chairman of Goa Industrial Development Corporation – criticising the criticism of the Archbishop and Godinho and former MP Narendra Sawaikar choosing to criticise the Archbishop for challenging the government decision. As expected, the Congress party has thrown its weight behind the Archbishop, with the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Digambar Kamat saying that every individual or a representative of any institution has a democratic right to express his or her opinion in a democratic way. Another senior Congress leader and South Goa Member of Parliament, Francisco Sardinha too supported the Archbishop, reminding critics that the Archbishop had always refrained from making political statements publicly unless he perceived that the issue involved was a threat to the values of the country and the Constitution.
It is true that the CAA-NPR-NRC controversy is not the first issue the Goa church has taken a clear stand on. In the past there were several issues on which the church took a stand contrary to the government’s view. So, there is nothing unusual in the Archbishop expressing his view. He is the leader of the laity and has to guide them according to how the church perceives a certain government policy or social trend. Like all of us, the Archbishop and the Christian laity have a right to hold and express their views on issues of great importance to the society and governance and unity and integrity of India. The Archbishop has only exercised his constitutional right. Those who say that a head of a religious body should not express his view on issues relating to governance or basic values of the Constitution need to remember that heads of religious bodies of other faiths have been in the forefront of attacks on laws and government decisions.
The best practices of governance should drive the government to have a dialogue with the Archbishop and all others who have expressed their opposition to CAA-NPR-NRC. Rather than adopting a confrontational approach, the state government should open out to listen to the views of the Archbishop and all others who hold different opinions on the issue. Any attempt to browbeat those expressing different views into submission could prove to be divisive and dangerous for national integration. All of us, in the government and outside, have to work relentlessly to strengthen the foundations of the constitutional integrity. Hateful and baseless allegations of conversions and such wild and loose comments weaken the foundations of the country’s constitutional integrity. Goa has witnessed rallies against and in favour of CAA. Everybody has a right to support or oppose a government decision. A law passed by majority in Parliament is always subject to review by the judicial court and the people’s court. All sections must desist from making provocative statements and engage in a meaningful dialogue to sort out differences. Goa has been a role model for communal harmony which must be preserved.