Cover Story: Goa

Up in the air

Print edition : March 31, 2017

BJP MLA Pramod Sawant celebrating his victory at Bal Bhavan in Panaji, Goa, on March 11. Photo: Vijay Soneji

A Congress party supporter celebrating his party's victory, at Bal Bhavan in Panaji, Goa, on March 11. Photo: Vijay Soneji

Congress candidate Dayanand Raghunath Sopte. He defeated BJP leader and Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar. Photo: PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar and Parsekar at a press conference at the BJP headquarters in Panaji after the election results were announced. Photo: Vijay Soneji

Counting in progress at Bal Bhavan on March 11. Although there were just 40 seats, the results took time to come out. Photo: Vijay Soneji

Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane and his son Vishwajit Rane, who won from their constituencies of Poriem and Valpor, respectively. Photo: Vijay Soneji

A record voter turnout does not ensure a clear winner in Goa, and both the Congress and the BJP are keen to form the next government.

AS was expected, the election in Goa has resulted in a fractured mandate and a hung Assembly. While it was a fiercely fought election, the final results were sadly an anti-climax. No clear picture emerged during the campaign period, and that is how it remained until the result for the last seat was declared. Unlike in other States, in Goa, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled State, there were no signs of a saffron wave or a resurgence of the party.

The Congress and the BJP won 17 and 13 seats respectively. Also as predicted, the independents and smaller regional parties secured enough seats to give them a decisive role in who will form the government.

Goa’s legislative Assembly has a mere 40 seats. If a party cannot secure the magic number of 21 seats, the smaller parties and independents play a critical role. And it is for this reason they tend not to enter into pre-election alliances. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won one seat and Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) three seats each. There are three independent winners.

Historically, the MGP goes with the BJP. In which case, Goa Forward could end up playing a big role in government formation. As this report went to press, Goa Forward had not yet decided whether it would support the BJP or the Congress. Although it is assumed that the party will go with the Congress, Goa Congress leaders treated it quite shabbily in the run-up to the elections, and therefore, it feels it needs to be judicious in its decision. There had been an informal pre-election understanding between the Congress and Goa Forward, in which the national party said it would not field candidates from the three constituencies Goa Forward was contesting. However, on the last day to file nomination papers, the Congress did an about-turn and put three candidates in the Goa Forward constituencies, which led to much mud-slinging between Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai and Congress chief Luizinho Faleiro. Interestingly, the Congress did this to Goa Forward in 2012 too.

“The only reason Goa Forward would tie up with the Congress is because it is a secular party, and as Goans this is a crucial aspect of our culture,” said Edison D’Cruz, a senior leader with Goa Forward. “Faleiro did not play fair, and I think he needs to know that. We will decide in the next few days.”

Small but significant

Even though there were just 40 seats, the results took time to come out. By 4 p.m. on result day, 38 seats had been declared, and since it was a close fight the final two seats would be deciders. Eventually, the Congress emerged victorious with 17 seats plus the seat of the independent it supported. The BJP is, however, not backing down. With 13 seats plus the seat of an independent and the MGP’s three seats, it is hoping to form the next government.

“It is only right that the Governor asks the party that won the majority to form the government,” said a senior Congress leader in Goa. “This is the mandate of the people and that should be respected. The BJP has failed them, and the results show what the people of Goa are feeling. It’s a very poor performance compared with the last Assembly election,” he said. Perhaps the most noteworthy outcome of the elections is that the Congress, which was routed in the 2012 Assembly elections, made a remarkable comeback. In the previous election, it won just nine seats, while the BJP secured a majority with 21 seats. That the Congress won so many more seats in this election says a lot about it, said a political analyst.

Political observers in Goa said that what went against the BJP was that it seemed to have failed on the development plank, on which it came to power. Additionally, after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar moved to the Central government, BJP supporters did not find Laxmikant Parsekar, his replacement, as dynamic or efficient. BJP leaders did allude to Parrikar being brought back as Chief Minister should the party retain power. “If it was banking on a BJP or Modi wave, that did not happen as at the time people voted in Goa the wave that Uttar Pradesh and other States saw was not all that prominent,” said the analyst.

Parrikar, apparently shaken by the results, attributed them to bad luck. He, however, said that the people had spoken and the BJP would respect the mandate. Informed sources said that he would not let go since it was a close contest and that he was working hard on alliances.

What went in favour of the Congress was its campaign against the BJP, perhaps some anti-incumbency, and the Christian vote in South Goa, said the analyst. “They [the Congress] used the word U-turn a lot on the campaign trail, saying that the BJP had not delivered on any of its promises. These would include reopening the mines, which they [the BJP] closed, and closing the casinos.” Parrikar had closed Goa’s iron ore mines because of concerns for the environment, but this caused livelihood distress in the entire region. The former Chief Minister had said he would reduce the number of, or even close, the casinos that were mushrooming on the Mandovi river in North Goa. However, years passed with no casino being closed. In fact, many more were given licences.

Goa has had successive Congress governments that have worked on the State’s development, particularly that of six-time Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane. However, owing to internal politics and alleged corruption among Ministers, the party was routed in the 2012 election. Goans revere Rane, a septuagenarian. He stepped down in 2007 over several controversies and has since played a low-key role in the party. For this election, the party projected him once again as the chief ministerial candidate if it came back. “Rane’s clean image and long run in government instils confidence in people,” said Anil Kerlekar, a restaurant owner in Calangute. “We have now seen many leaders in power; he was the most progressive and good for the State.”

The MGP was expected to win more than three seats. Yet it is not a complete loss. Even though it had broken away from the BJP, that traditional alliance remains strong, and in all likelihood the MGP will iron out its differences and align with the saffron party.

Goa Forward emerged happy and content with its win. In fact, D’Cruz said that the Congress had not won for anything that it had done but because there was no other option. “Had we had the resources and wherewithal to field more candidates, I am sure we could have got more Congress seats,” D’Cruz said.

Although caste does not play the role in Goa that it does in other States, Sardesai is popular among the lower-caste sections in South Goa, and the community is believed to have thrown its weight behind Goa Forward and not the Congress, which it traditionally votes for.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) high-decibel debut in Goa was a complete failure. The AAP contested every constituency and was expected to win at least three seats. However, even its projected Chief Minister, Elvis Gomes, a popular candidate, lost his seat. The AAP ensured that there was a multi-cornered contest in the State but just played a spoiler role, said the analyst. In fact, according to Election Commission data, in many constituencies, the NOTA (none of the above) option polled more than the AAP. Similarly, the rebel Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh leader Subash Velingkar, who created a ruckus a few days before the results came out, stating that he would return to the RSS and would dissolve his creation the Goa RSS Prant, drew a blank. Velingkar’s party, the Goa Suraksha Manch, contested six seats and lost all. The RSS sacked Velingkar in August 2016 for his incessant attacks on Defence Minister Parrikar.

It has been established that religion and caste play a small role in elections in Goa. Goans want livelihood options and better infrastructure, said an observer. The results show that people want a government that will develop the State and take it forward. The Goankar culture of tolerance and acceptance and the people’s sussegado (meaning relaxed and laid-back) attitude is strong and must not be tampered with, say Goans. Politicians, including those of the right-wing parties, seem to respect this.

Winners and losers

The BJP witnessed some stunning defeats, with many stalwarts and sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly losing their constituencies. A big upset was former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar losing to the Congress’ Dayanand Sopte in Mandrem constituency. Dayanand Mandrekar, a five-term winner, lost to Goa Forward’s Vinod Paliencar in Siolim. Rajendra Arlekar lost to the MGP’s Manohar Ajgaonkar in Pernem, and Dilip Parulekar lost to Jayesh Salgoankar of Goa Forward in Saligoa.

If Parrikar is not sent back from Delhi, the BJP’s possible contenders for the post of Chief Minister are Michael Lobo from Calangute and Francisco D’Souza from Mapusa. D’Souza would be presented as the BJP’s minority and Christian representative in its effort to expand its social base in Goa. Interestingly, several former Chief Ministers, including four from the Congress —Pratapsingh Rane, Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat and Luizinho Faleiro—contested the elections and won. Rane, Kamat and Faleiro are chief ministerial contenders, party supporters believe. Congress sources say this decision will, however, be taken only by the party high command. The Congress was hopeful that Atanasio (Babush) Monserate of the United Goans Party would win. Although a colourful character with reportedly a few criminal charges against him, he appeared popular in the Santa Cruz constituency. His loss cost them one seat. Churchill Alemao, who stood on the NCP ticket and is another former Chief Minister, emerged victorious. He has been linked to several controversies but could play a vital role in government formation.

This election saw a record voter turnout. According to Election Commission data, the total voter turnout on February 4, voting day in Goa, was 83 per cent. The vote share in this election is as follows: BJP 33 per cent, Congress 28 per cent, AAP 6 per cent and others 33 per cent. There were 251 candidates contesting from the 40 constituencies. The Congress fielded 37 candidates, closely followed by the BJP with 36. There were 58 independent candidates in all, and both the Samajwadi Janata Party and the Ambedkarite Party of India fielded one candidate each.

Senior party leaders from the Congress and the BJP say that the hung Assembly will bring instability and affect development. With no party revealing its hand a day after the results, it can only be hoped that party leaders put the State before their party and ensure a cohesive government is formed.

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