Retaining both the Lok Sabha seats in the tiny coastal State of Goa was a challenge for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar passed away in March. The May 23 result was as predicted by election pundits. The South Goa seat went to the Congress and the North Goa seat to the BJP. The State also had byelections to four Assembly seats, of which Mandrem, Mapusa and Siroda went to the BJP. The Congress won the prestigious Panaji constituency, which was held by Parrikar.
Had numbers mattered for government formation at the Centre, Goa’s two seats would have been crucial for the BJP. Since the party registered a massive victory, the Goa seats may not be significant at the national level, but the result is critical for the BJP to remain on top in the State. It has been on shaky ground since the passing of Parrikar, and current electoral gains can put it back on a strong wicket.
Shripad Naik, Union Minister of State for AYUSH, won the North Goa seat for the fifth consecutive time by a margin of 80,247 votes, defeating his Congress rival, Girish Raya Chodankar. In a State where constituencies are small, even a few hundred votes matter, so Naik’s vote margin is highly creditable.
Former Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Cosme Francisco Caitano Sardinha has been elected from the South Goa constituency. He defeated the sitting BJP MP Narendra Sawaikar by a margin of 9,755 votes. In 2014, Sawaikar won the seat by a margin of 32,330 votes. South Goa has a predominant Catholic population and had been traditionally held by the Congress. Sawaikar’s victory in 2014 was considered a one-time wonder caused by the Narendra Modi wave and petty politics within the local Congress.
Sardinha was Speaker of the State Assembly in the Pratap Singh Rane government. He broke away from the Congress in 1999 to form the Goa People’s Congress. He subsequently merged the party with the Congress. In 2014, Sardinha was not given the Congress ticket. Typical of Goa politics, infighting in the Congress would have been the reason for such a decision. Furious with the Congress, Sardinha’s son contested as an independent, which obviously split the Congress vote. The BJP won the seat. Not willing to risk such a situation again, the Congress nominated Sardinha this time.
“He won it on many counts. One, he is an old hand; two South Goa needs mining operations to reopen and hopes were pinned on Sardinha as the Congress [if elected to power] would have got mining restarted; three, the Catholic community is much larger in South Goa than in North Goa; and four, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party [MGP] leader Sudin Dhavlikar’s vendetta against the BJP saw him working hard to see the party defeated,” said Edwin Fonseca, president of the Goa-based All India Catholic Union. Catholics form between 25 and 30 per cent of the Goan population, with a majority of them living south of Panaji.
The BJP’s Shripad Naik is also a veteran. The northern parts of Goa are largely Hindu dominated, and so the BJP has a better footing there. Goa’s northern region did not have industrial zones like those found in the south. Recently, the new airport project and tourism development plans were implemented and basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges was improved. Naik is credited with some of this progress, said Fonseca, who lives in Assagaon in North Goa. “Parrikar and Naik were given Cabinet berths in the Modi government, which was appreciated by the Goan electorate. The two of them put Goa on the country’s development map.”
The loss of livelihood due to the closure of mines, the chaotic tourism industry, unemployment and the need for infrastructure development were the issues that came up during the election. “While these are local issues, the electorate believes that the Centre can help the State, especially since they have sent Cabinet Ministers to New Delhi,” said Alwyn Almeida, a lawyer and volunteer for the Congress in Mapusa.
Right from the time it became a part of the Union and gained independent status first as a Union Territory and later as a State, Goa had been a Congress stronghold. A victim of the Congress’ maladministration, the State opened up to the BJP only in the early 2000s. Regional parties historically played a role to make up the majority in the Assembly. In the past two Lok Sabha elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had made inroads in the State. In this election, the AAP’s Elvis Gomes secured 20,891 votes in South Goa and Dattatraya Padgaonkar 4,756 votes in North Goa. Both secured the third highest number of votes although the margin of votes between the winner and the first loser was wide. Yet, it may be a sign that the AAP has made an impression, but it could take a while for the party to emerge as a serious contender in the elections to come.
For Goa, the byelections that took place simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election were critical to having a stable government. The results of the 2017 election to the 40-member Assembly were close, with the BJP winning 13 seats and the Congress 17. The BJP lost no time in forging alliances with the Goa Forward (G.F.) party, and the MGP, which won three seats each. By wooing away three independents, the BJP crossed the halfway mark and sought an invitation to form the government. The G.F. chief Vijay Sardesai had told Frontline then that they were let down at the last minute by the Congress and that the G.F. would go with the BJP and to teach it a lesson. Moreover, Parrikar would be Chief Minister and they had confidence in him.
Parrikar rewarded the coalition partners with important ministerial berths. When he passed away, the BJP was faced with a crisis as the alliance partners threatened to pull out saying that their allegiance was to Parrikar and no one else. In a move to appease the coalition partners, Sardesai and Dhavlikar were both made Deputy Chief Ministers. A few weeks after they were pacified, Dhavlikar was dumped unceremoniously. The BJP was confident that it would win the byelections and that it did not need the MGP. According to local people, Dhavlikar took revenge by helping Sardinha during the Lok Sabha campaign. In the past year, two Congress members, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Raghunath Sopte, joined the BJP. Panaji is prominent among the four Assembly constituencies that had byelections. The BJP fielded its former MLA Sidharth Kuncaleinker against former Minister Atanasio Monserrate of the Congress. Monserrate won the seat by the slender margin of 1,758 votes.
Former Goa Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh chief Subhash Velingkar was also in the fray as the Goa Suraksha Manch candidate in Mapusa Assembly constituency. The byelection to the seat was necessitated by the death of Francis D’Souza. Joshua Peter D’Souza, Francis’ son, contested on the BJP ticket and won against Sudhir Kandolkar of the Congress by a margin of 1,151 votes. In Mandrem, the BJP’s Dayanand Sopte defeated the independent candidate Jit Vinayak Arolka by 4,125 votes. In Siroda, the BJP’s Subhash Shirodkar won against the Congress and the MGP’s Deepak Dhavlikar by 76 votes.
In the final tally in the Assembly, the BJP has a comfortable majority of 22 seats: 16 seats of its own and three each of the G.F. and independents. Perhaps, the BJP was aware of the likely outcome and threw out its traditional ally, the MGP, which it saw as disruptive and meddlesome.