Panaji: If Father Bismarque Dias sticks to his guns till March 3, he may well become the first man of the cloth to contest elections in Goa.
The thin, wiry French beard-sporting Roman Catholic priest who hails from St Estevam island, in the Cumbharjua constituency near Panaji, is at ease preaching from the pulpit as well as leading civil society agitations against illegal mining and state-endorsed abusive land use policies.
For the last decade, the firebrand Bismarque, who`s easily recognisable in his casual T-shirts and trousers and a small haversack slung over his shoulders, has been a regular face at public outings and protests across Goa against the ruling Congress-led alliance government.
"I am fighting elections to protect the land for the children of Goa who are yet to be born. What has happened over the last few years is absolute rape and plunder of Goa`s natural resources. My contesting elections is to give people an alternative to the present corrupt lot who have sold us off," Bismarque, who belongs to the lesser known Catholic order of the House of Blessed Sacrament Fathers and is an independent candidate, told reporters.
Bismarque acknowledged that he is the first priest in Goa to contest elections to the state legislative assembly and knows it could lead to the wrath of his superiors in the church hierarchy. But he feels that the political system in Goa has plunged to unthinkable depths and is bordering on anarchy and that now is the time to make a difference.
"The church is clear that no priest can contest elections. This is Roman law. But looking at the situation in Goa now, my conscience calls me to act. And now is the time to act before it is too late," Bismarque said.
The activist priest did not mince words vis-a-vis the alleged role of the church in selling off its island property in Vanxim (in Cumbarjua constituency) to real estate developers and which is now facing flak for the same.
"I respect the church as much as I respect any other religion. In Vanxim, I exposed the issue, but the church did nothing. They still have the power to correct the wrongs they have done, but they have not taken any step yet," Bismarque said, adding that his poll mantra was holistic planning.
Willing to take on the establishment, especially the political class at public forums, Bismarque has often had ugly slanging matches with ministers, which is as unconventional as unconventional goes when it comes to Catholic priests who rarely take on the political class publicly.
Bismarque`s maverick streak lived up to itself two months back, when yoga guru Baba Ramdev was in town as part of the Bharat Swabhiman Trust (BST) engagement. Both Bismarque and Ramdev during a public confabulation that followed resolved to fight corruption in public life in Goa in collaboration with each other.
According to the priest, over a hundred citizens groups are backing his candidature.
"I worked for people staying in Narva and St Estevam. My constituency is the place where I was born and grew up. We want to give a new political culture to Goa," Bismarque said, adding that the island constituency was ecologically vulnerable and he was looking to conserve the area.
The Zagrut Goenkarancho Ekovtt, an umbrella group representing numerous small to big civil society groups, which has backed Bismarque and three other apolitical candidates, is hoping that Bismarque and the other three will make a difference.
"We are not a political party. We have been forced to take this stand. All the political parties -- ruling and opposition -- have failed us. If people want to save Goa from builders and land sharks and the mining mafia, they should elect us," said Prakash Bandodkar, convenor of the ZGE.