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 IANS.
Wrath of superiors
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 is now taking flak.
“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.
Bismarque has often had ugly exchanges with ministers, which is unconventional when it comes to Catholic priests who rarely take on the political class publicly.