Amidst weeks of restlessness among Congress supporters in South Goa, the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee finally made an ‘out-of-the-box’ decision to field Captain Viriato Fernandes, a retired Naval Officer, and now a high profile social activist to contest the seat.

The decision was greeted with contented enthusiasm among the people at large. After all, who has not seen, or at least heard of ‘Captain’ as he is fondly known? He was a regular at all rallies of Peoples’ Movements and led from the front. The entire I.N.D.I.A bloc ardently welcomed the move.

Just about the same time as he was finding his space as a retiree from the Navy, Viriato was struck by recurring news on-the-ground and in the media about the multiple social issues of injustice and poor governance in Goa.

He was restive because he simply did not want to be an apathetic spectator to the troubles that Goa was going through, especially for the poor and marginalised. He also developed resentment for a government whose views on development of the State were lopsided and geared to the gains of the rich who wanted to seize important natural resources to get richer at the cost of the government and the people.

This nexus was what Viriato set out to reverse. The people at the margins were left disempowered and unable to claim their legitimate rights. With his eye on equitable distribution of wealth and justice as his end-game, Viriato stepped out into a campaign that was people-centric and a fight against systems that needed urgent transformation.

He dumped a lucrative overseas job offer and decided that ‘less is more’. He once said: “My pension gives me enough, being rich is not my goal in life”. Materialism was not his thing. His choice of sacrificial service has attracted much admiration and support in Goa.

Viriato reflected on what he witnessed and took the plunge into social activism. He was an ever-present figure at people’s agitations for justice and against government aberrations.

He soon evolved into a face and voice for those who needed his accompaniment and solidarity. He saw in the political system of Goa corruption and preferences for the affluent. Viriato believed that development had to put the poor as a priority and set about organising “Goencho Avaaz” – the voice of Goa.

After some searching discussions and planning, Goencho Avaaz decided to plunge into electoral politics. Its rationale was that the big social-economic-political questions that plague Goa must be tackled upfront.

Political managers who saw the potency of the movement used any number of pretexts to delay its registration as a political party. It then had to be re-christened as the Goencho Swabhiman Party (GSP) although it remains recognised as the ‘Avaaz of Goa’.

Three months after its first public encounter with the public at a rally at Margao’s Lohia Maidan, Goencho Avaaz began to act with a sense of urgency. It lost no time in its battle to save the land, rivers and even the air of Goa.

At Margao, on a warm summer evening, Goencho Avaaz had focused on the Regional Plan and exposed the deals of politicians in land conversion. A second important mass gathering took place in Vasco, under cloudy skies that neither deterred the mass that had gathered nor for Viriato himself.

At that meeting he took on broader issues of the people like the Planning and Development Authorities, transportation of coal, the river nationalisation mysteries, and fish preserved in formalin and the proposed high-end tourism projects.

Through its work, the GSP has accumulated people’s knowledge and opinions of people from across villages and towns and made it public. Previous experience suggests that public opinion alone does not result in government policies. Pressure from below does! That requires political will and pressure.

The GSP was challenged in its bid to win by two factors. First, they used divide-and-rule tactics which pitted GSP against another Regional Party that the Ruling party would take away from the common peoples consensus. As it turned out, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) put up a woman candidate presumably because they thought it would be a winning ticket, considering, especially, that women have very little public profile in politics and the number of women voters is large.

The move tripped, stumbled and fell at the finish and Viriato won by a comfortable margin of over 20,000 votes. Viriato’s opponent simply had no experience in politics, and an understanding of ground realities, whereas Viriato knew every nook and corner of South Goa.

From Day one, many of us who followed the campaign trail saw a new dimension to politics. Here was a united front, all sharing a common aspiration, to put a peoples’ person in Parliament from where Goa could fight big business interests.

The Congress Party which had hitherto gone into a slumber was reactivated and citizens of multiple community groups, classes, and political orientations joined Viriato’s journey to victory. The Congress and other regional allies, including Goa Forward were fully behind the GSP. His easy access to people and a warm smile for anyone who he encountered endeared him to the people.

The BJP tucked itself into an insecure corner. Viriato’s opponent was no match for this leader who knew the ground reality and the people’s aspirations. They used below-the-belt tactics to purge him from the race and alleged that he spoke against the Constitution.

Viriato’s assertion that the Indian Constitution was "forced" upon Goans after the state's liberation from Portuguese rule in 1961 emerged as a focal point of the controversy. He furiously denied it and asked the people how he could be a “Kargil war hero” and an ‘anti-national’ at the same time. The desperate attempt of the BJP leadership to discredit him fell flat.

In the end those who supported Viriato and the India Alliance will affirm with conviction: “The people have won”. Viriato’s election will give the right kind of fillip to Peoples Movements in Goa.