TMC, AAP plans for Goa

Goa expedition: TMC, AAP eyeing a foothold at the expense of BJP and Congress

Print edition : December 03, 2021

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with veteran tennis player Leander Paes, who joined the TMC, at a press conference in Panaji on October 29. Photo: PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing a public meeting in Panaji on May 22, 2016. Photo: Atish Pomburfekar

Luizinho Faleiro, former Goa Chief Minister and Congress veteran, joined the Trinamool Congress in the presence of senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee and general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, in Kolkata on September 29. Photo: PTI

The Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are both aiming to gain a foothold in Goa, but they may not find it easy to convince the Goan voter even though the electorate is fed up with the Congress and the BJP.

Massive hoardings of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal can be spotted along the highway that connects Goa’s southern and northern parts. For a State where the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dominate the political landscape, it is nothing short of shocking for local residents to see political parties from other parts of the country attempt to gain a foothold in Goa, where the Assembly election is scheduled to be held in February 2022. However, within days the hoardings, particularly the faces of the leaders, were blackened. It could have been either the handiwork of local residents or a petty message from rival political parties, but a resident told Frontline that those who know Goa will realise that the main message is: outsiders are not welcome.

The people of the State are fiercely proud of their identity and will not easily allow non-Goans to make inroads. The TMC and the AAP may have a plan by coming to Goa, but unless their strategists understand the unique ethos of the tiny coastal State, they will struggle to open their account.

A senior political leader of a national party who is based in Panaji said: “Goa, with its 40-seat Legislative Assembly, is considered an easy State to break into. Constituencies are small, therefore it will not require huge resources to fight an election. This is why the TMC and the AAP are looking at Goa. It’s a State that will help realise national ambitions without too much effort, or so they think. Until now, neither party has found a credible Goan face to lead it in the State. This is crucial for victory.”

He added: “Goa certainly needs a shake-up. The Congress and the BJP are doing nothing for the State and the people are frustrated with politicians hopping from party to party. Even now the Congress, which has a huge support base, has not put a face to its leadership in Goa. The pandemic has taken its toll on the economy, especially tourism. Change is required, but it has to be from a genuine and solid party. Unfortunately, in Goa it has come down to a numbers game and that is what these other players are exploiting.”

Also read: BJP under pressure with Assembly elections on the horizon

Analysts said that even if the TMC did not win a large number of seats, just gaining recognition as a political party in Goa would help it in its aspirations to become a national party ahead of the 2024 general election. The TMC needs to be recognised as a State party in at least four States before it can qualify as a national party. Also, it must secure 6 per cent of the total vote polled in each of the States where it contests elections. The analysts said that Goa’s small size may help the TMC achieve this condition.

In the case of the Delhi-based AAP, the party could play kingmaker similar to the way Goa Forward (GF) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), two prominent regional parties, have done in the past, since Goa is a State where every seat matters. The AAP has been looking at expanding its national footprint and Goa and Gujarat appear to be the two States targeted for this plan.

The TMC option

It was after her spectacular victory in West Bengal that Mamata Banerjee announced the TMC’s pan-India expansion plans, which includes Goa, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh. She was categorical about wanting to fight in the national arena and claimed that the TMC was the only hope against the BJP juggernaut. In late October, Mamata Banerjee landed in Goa on a three-day tour. Local residents said that most of the hoardings featuring her had been taken down by then. Mamata Banerjee did refer to the vandalism, saying it was pettiness shown by an insecure BJP.

Naming the Goa campaign for the 2022 Assembly election as “Goenchi Navi Sakal” (Goa’s new dawn), Mamata Banerjee in her first address to the people of Goa said: “I am not an outsider and I do not want to become CM…. I am here to help you.” Apparently, the TMC’s strategist, Prashant Kishor, who steered the party to its outstanding win in West Bengal, and a team from his organisation I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) are camping in Goa to do demographic ground work, recruit candidates and eventually launch the TMC’s campaign.

Yatish Naik, a newly inducted member of TMC-Goa, told Frontline: “The people of Goa are fed up with the BJP. There is a complete collapse of administration, the economy is in poor condition, and unemployment levels are increasing. They are looking for a credible alternative and the TMC is here to give that.”

He added: “The older parties have betrayed the people of the State. They have lost their shine. We need fresh blood. Obviously, we have to work very hard to earn the trust of Goans and to find the right candidates, but we are not outsiders as the narrative is being spun. By that logic, even the Congress and BJP are outsiders.”

Also read: Trinamool Congress’ expansion drive at national level

The TMC’s big catch is Congress veteran and former Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro. He has some influence in South Goa but is not seen as a tall leader.

The actor Nafisa Ali made a big splash by joining TMC-Goa and the party expects her star power to have an effect on voters. Analysts said that with Prashant Kishor at the helm, one could be sure that that the party’s choice of candidates in the run-up to the election would be decided cleverly and carefully. Yatish Naik said that the TMC was in the process of forming its organisation in Goa. The party would reveal more about its election plank in the coming weeks, he added.

The AAP’s promises

The AAP will definitely contest 15 to 17 seats out of the 40, an AAP insider told Frontline. In 2017, the party contested 36 seats but won none. It did, however, win 6.3 per cent of the vote share, which was more than GF, which won three seats. The source said: “The strategy this time would be to invest in constituencies where they stand a good chance. If they win up to 10 seats, they could turn out to be kingmakers, a role coveted by the regional parties.” Antonio D’Silva, a party worker in Parra village in North Goa district, said that the AAP’s approach was to poach disgruntled Congress and BJP politicians who felt neglected by their parties. In the past few months, the AAP has managed to rope in Dayanand Narvekar, a former Deputy Chief Minister; Puti Goankar, leader of the Goa Mining People’s Front; and Dominic Gauncar, a well-known rights activist and zilla parishad member. Antonio D’Silva said: “There are many local politicians who are looking to see which would suit them better—the TMC or the AAP.”

Meanwhile, Kejriwal appears to have his own strategy. On recent visits to the State, he made a bunch of populist promises that did not seem to have received the response he expected. At a press conference in November, Kejriwal said that if voted to power, the AAP government would sponsor pilgrimages to Ayodhya for Hindus, Velankanni for Christians, Ajmer Sharif for Muslims and Shirdi for anyone who wishes to visit. He said that he had introduced the pilgrimage scheme in Delhi and claimed it was a success.

In September, Kejriwal promised 80 per cent reservation to local people in private companies. He also pledged a monthly allowance of Rs.3,000 to any family where no member is employed. Furthermore, he promised each household 300 units of free electricity under his administration. More recently, Kejriwal said that he would provide better education and health care in Goa.

Also read: Congress in disorder

A social worker pointed out that Goa was much more progressive than Delhi and had already achieved a high level of education, health care and electricity in its villages. He said that Kejriwal ought to work on employment and the economy. A Goan political journalist said: “To begin with, neither the TMC nor the AAP has a strong ideology. And other than a few veteran Goan Congress politicians, neither does the Goan politician. They are generally opportunistic and everyone believes he can be the Chief Minister. The vision and leadership that was present in former Chief Minister Pratap Singh Rane’s period is seriously lacking. They may go on about outsiders but in the end it will be a numbers game, with regional parties such as the MGP and the GF playing kingmakers as we witnessed in 2017. Moreover, in this effort to defeat the BJP, they are weakening the Congress or splitting that vote. In Goa, it would be advisable to work with the Congress if you want to beat the BJP.”

Numbers game

In 2017, the Congress won 17 seats, the BJP 13, the MGP three, the GF three, independents three and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) one. Although the Congress won the public mandate, the BJP reacted quickly by coopting the MGP and GF to cross the half-way mark. It formed the government with the regional parties and the independents, but kicked them out two years later when it managed to poach 10 Congress MLAs. It had also won three byelections in 2019 and thus had a brute majority in the House.

Vijay Sardesai, leader of the GF, who was reeling from the back-stabbing, proclaimed that he would work towards destroying the BJP, which he said had done nothing for the State but play dirty politics. There were strong rumours that Sardesai would join the TMC but he is still holding his cards close to his chest. A businessman in Goa said: “Sardesai apparently is the one to watch out for. He has a vendetta but he is also a shrewd and competent politician.”

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