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Goa Assembly Election

Goa Assembly election results: Numbers game pitches BJP back to power

Print edition : Mar 25, 2022 T+T-
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant (right) at a press conference on March 10 after the election results were declared. With him are BJP colleagues G. Kishan Reddy (extreme left) and Devendra Fadnavis, who was in charge of the Goa election.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant (right) at a press conference on March 10 after the election results were declared. With him are BJP colleagues G. Kishan Reddy (extreme left) and Devendra Fadnavis, who was in charge of the Goa election.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram and Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar (right) at a meeting with party candidates on March 9 in Margao.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram and Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar (right) at a meeting with party candidates on March 9 in Margao.

The Bharatiya Janata Party wins its third term in Goa, thanks largely to a divided opposition. The AAP springs a surprise by winning two seats after having drawn a blank in 2017.

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged comfortably victorious in Goa, it is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that can be considered a true winner in the tiny State. After not winning a single seat in 2017, it opened its account with two significant gains in this election. Indeed, the 2022 results came with a few surprises. The young and relatively unknown Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP), for instance, won one seat. In a State that has just 40 Assembly constituencies, every success, however small, is important. The regional parties that historically played kingmaker and were predicted to do so this time too have been completely sidelined. The Congress, whose prospects had appeared not too dim, fell prey to incompetent management of party affairs and poor strategy; new entrants in the fray also split the vote, which too went against the party.

Until March 10, when the results were declared, election analysts were predicting a hung Assembly. The prediction was based on the fact that towards the end of the campaign, the race had narrowed to the two national parties that seemed to have managed to push past the regional and new players. A strong anti-incumbency sentiment and the constant defection drama seemed to suggest people would vote for change. In the end, it came down to a numbers game, which the Congress either did not foresee or could not play.

This is the BJP’s third successive term in Goa. In the finally tally, the BJP won 20, one short of a majority. The Congress got 11; the AAP, two; the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), two; the Goa Forward Party (GFP), one; and the RGP, one. Three seats went to independent candidates. The BJP gained seven seats over its 2017 tally, while the Congress got six fewer. Once the 2022 results were declared, the three independent MLAs said they would support the BJP. The MGP also extended support to the BJP. It is not clear how that will work, given that the MGP is in a pre-poll alliance with the Trinamool Congress. With the support of independents, the BJP probably does not need the MGP, a party that it had used and then tossed out in 2018.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant was the chief ministerial face of the BJP’s campaign. Sawant’s quiet, humble, and most importantly for Goans, approachable manner seems to endear him to the people. He had taken over after Manohar Parrikar, a popular and dynamic Chief Minister, passed away. Sawant’s nemesis, however, is Vishwajit Rane, State Health Minister and son of former Chief Minister Pratap Singh Rane. A seven-time Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Vishwajit Rane’s ambitions for chief ministership are well known. A Congressman until 2017, he won the Valpoi seat in this election by a massive 7,000 votes. (Sawant barely scraped through with 666 votes.)

Also read: A tale of saffron spread and regional resistance

In 2017, the Congress won 17 seats and the BJP 13. The BJP acted swiftly to pip the Congress at the post by cobbling together a coalition within hours of the results. Perhaps learning a lesson from the last election, a few days before the results this time Congress leaders gathered in Goa, secured their contenders in safe places to pre-empt poaching, and reportedly sent feelers to the regional parties, the AAP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to form an alliance should the need arise.

Speaking to Frontline about the election result, Vijai Sardesai, the GFP leader, said: “We are completely taken aback. The sentiment was against the BJP. I blame the opposition for not putting up a united front.” The GFP had a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. Out of the three constituencies that the party contested in, Sardesai’s was the only seat it won. “We are seeing a very unfortunate situation all over India. I can only hope the level of the BJP’s politics witnessed in other States does not filter into Goa. It is time for all the other parties to introspect,” Sardesai said.

Dr Oscar Rebello, a political columnist and former AAP member, said: “I am absolutely stunned. We thought the anti-incumbency wave would see the end of the BJP, but it has not only won but won well. This is Pramod Sawant’s moment. To steer the party to win 20 seats is finally a way out of the shadows of Manohar Parrikar.” He added that the low margins indicated that the result had more to do with a fragmented opposition than the BJP’s strategy. He was certain there was enough anger directed at the BJP to make it lose and blamed the Congress’ lack of astuteness which allowed what he called “transactional politics” and let down the State.

Subodh Kerkar, an artist and political commentator who has been monitoring the election closely, said: “I do not believe they [BJP] won the mandate. The BJP did not have any depth in its campaign. It was clever strategy with numbers that saw it through. This victory was due to the splitting of the non-BJP vote. I do not think it had any particular political advantage or strategy for the State that helped it to win.”

At a press conference following the results, Devendra Fadnavis, BJP leader in charge of Goa, said the party would weigh all its options before approaching the Governor to form the government. According to Election Commission (E.C.) data, the BJP secured 33.31 per cent vote share, against 32.48 in 2017. The Congress’ vote share dropped to 23.5 per cent from 28.4 per cent in 2017; the MGP took 7.6 per cent, the AAP 6.7 per cent, the Trinamool 5.2 per cent; “others”, including the RGP, secured as much as 19.3 per cent.

Confident all the way

Goa initially witnessed a multi-cornered contest with several new entrants in the fray. The Trinamool’s high decibel entry, with Prashant Kishor of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) leading the campaign strategy, certainly shook the State’s political equilibrium. For months, the Trinamool wooed senior political leaders and State celebrities, some of whom even joined the party. According to Trinamool leaders, the party asked the Congress to team up with it, but a public spat between Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra and the Congress’ P. Chidambaram put that idea to rest. Other contenders switched between the BJP and the Congress. The AAP recruited a few significant players but remained aloof to alliances. Post the nomination deadline, it was clear it had come down to the old dogfight between the BJP and the Congress. Singed in 2017, the Congress made its MLAs take a pledge not to defect and at the last minute made attempts to attract partners. Obviously, it was too little too late.

Also read: Hard-fought win for the BJP

It would seem now that the BJP had a quiet confidence through the campaign months. There were few overtures to form alliances. The party remained strong in its selection of candidates in spite of the Utpal Parrikar episode. Utpal Parrikar, son of Manohar Parrikar, wanted to contest from his father’s Panjim seat. He quit the party after being denied the seat and said he would contest on his own. The BJP’s Atanasio Monserrate, who is well-entrenched in the Panjim area, romped home with a reasonably good margin. Did the BJP have a winning formula? Unlikely, say political commentators. Essentially, the party probably knew it would come down to co-opting a few independents, which was an easy task.

On voting day, Sawant told Frontline he was confident of 21 seats, a goal his party almost achieved. Local residents say the BJP will need to deliver on employment and address concerns about the economy by focussing on tourism and mining. Sawant said infrastructure, employment for women and tourism would be key areas of development if he came to power.

The Congress botch-up

If there is one thing the Congress does well, it is accepting defeat gracefully. At a press conference in Panjim after the results, Chidambaram spoke of the narrow margins by which the party lost and said: “A split in votes among various parties ended up in our numbers being less than what we had hoped for... the BJP won by a little over 33 per cent of votes, the remaining got divided.” Nonetheless, the party was not decimated in the way it was in other States. Strong candidates such as Michael Lobo from Calangute, Claude Alvares from Aldona, Alexio Sequeira from Nuvem and former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat from Margao won with significant margins. One party source said: “The high command was slow in deciding nominations and in seeking alliances. The local leadership is petty and the top bosses did not address this. We could have won. Instead, we let down the State. Hopefully, we can be a good opposition instead of exposing our selfish pettiness.”

Also read: A vote for change?

The vote margins of this election showed that the race was tight. In nine constituencies there was a close finish with the winning candidate surpassing the closest rival by fewer than a thousand votes. In Ponda, former Chief Minister Ravi Naik won only because the votes had to be recounted. He received 77 votes more than Dr Ketan Bhatikar (MGP). Viresh Borkar of the RGP won by 76 votes and Cruz Silva of the AAP won by 169 votes. Power Minister Nilesh Cabral of the BJP won against the Congress’ Amit Patkar in Curchorem by 672 votes.

Goan elections typically see a divide between the State’s northern and southern regions. The north is largely painted saffron, while the south tends to remain a Catholic stronghold loyal to the Congress or secular regional parties. Manohar Parrikar had skilfully broken the Catholic voter base by enticing several important people with political appointments and with the party ticket during elections. Without Parrikar, local sources say the Catholics banded together once again and issued their famous surreptitious political diktat, which comes a few days before polling in creative ways. A local resident told Frontline , the diktat was to vote for the Congress this time. Clearly, it did not work.

The AAP gain

In Goa, nothing is more important than the candidate. If he or she has delivered and is accessible, that person will be rewarded. The AAP, which contested 39 of the 40 seats, judged this correctly and won its maiden seats on strength of its candidates. Its Capt. Venzy Viegas beat former Chief Minister Churchill Alemao in a David-and-Goliath type battle. Viegas’ aggressive door-to-door campaign and the projection of the image of a ‘doer’ took him to victory. Similarly, Silva’s regular visits and contact with his constituents seems to have paid off. As a first-time contestant, Viegas secured an impressive 30 per cent of the votes in his constituency and won by 1,200 votes. A good number as constituencies in Goa are as small as 10,000 people. Silva, a former sarpanch, won 23 per cent of the votes in his constituency, although his victory margin was narrow.

Also read: AAP expansion

The AAP’s election manifesto included free education, free electricity, better health care, allowances for the unemployed, restarting of mining and resolution of the State’s contentious land issues. Goa tops the country’s list of States with a high quality of living, so it is not clear whether the AAP’s promises had an impact. Yet, it has made an inroad, which makes it a party to look out for.

Main winners and upsets

The BJP’s main winners are Pramod Sawant from Sanquelim, Vishwajit Rane from Valpoi, Deviya Rane from Poreim. A first-time contestant, Deviya Rane, wife of Vishwajit Rane, wrested her father-in-law Pratap Singh Rane’s bastion. Rohan Kaunte, an independent who switched to the BJP, remained in control of the Porvorim constituency. Former Chief Minister Ravi Naik retained Ponda; the Monserrate couple Atanasio (Babush) and Jennifer kept Panjim and Talegoan. Congress stalwarts Digambar Kamat, Michael Lobo, Alexio Sequeira, Sankalp Amonkar and Altone D’Costa held on with sizeable margins. Vijai Sardesai of the GFP won from Fatorda and Sudhin Dhavlikar from the MGP won from Marcaim. Commentators say that the RGP, which fielded contestants in all 40 seats, is a party to watch out for. They say it is styled on the lines of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which believes it is a leader of India’s youth. The debut win of the RGP leader Viresh Borkar from the St. Andre seat is considered significant.

The Trinamool’s entry into Goan politics had commentators speculating on whether it would turn out to be a Trojan horse for the BJP. It definitely made an initial impact, but, as Goans say, “outsiders are outsiders.”