Assembly elections: Goa

Hotchpotch in Goa

Print edition : February 17, 2017

The AAP's chief ministerial candidate, Elvis Gomes, and the party's Panaji candidate, Valmiki Naik, during a "jhaadu yatra" in Panaji on January 18. Photo: Atish Pomburfekar

Manohar Parrikar appears to be the BJP’s best bet and the Congress falls back once again on its veteran leader Pratapsinh Rane. But the AAP, Goa Forward and the MGP can play spoilers in the tiny State.

GOA is India’s smallest State, but the run-up to the February 4 elections to its 40-member Assembly is as vigorous and dramatic as it is in the four other States that are going to the polls in February/March.

As in the 2012 elections, the race this time is between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. However, a few regional parties such as the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa Forward and the Goa Vikas Party and some independents are in a position to play critical roles in the formation of the government. Adding to the mix is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is fielding 36 candidates, spoiling the Congress’ chances.

It is anyone’s guess which way the regional parties and independents will go, political observers say. The BJP has fielded its candidates in 36 seats and is supporting independents in two constituencies. The Congress is contesting 37 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party 16 and the MGP-Goa Suraksha Manch-Shiv Sena alliance 26. Goa Forward is contesting in four critical constituencies.

In the 2012 elections, the BJP, riding on the crest of an anti-incumbency wave, defeated the long-serving Congress party by winning 21 seats. The Congress won nine seats. Having secured a majority, the BJP was spared the pressure of tying up with regional parties or independents and pandering to their demands. Manohar Parrikar, who is now Defence Minister, was chosen as Chief Minister. There was hope that the engineering graduate with a clean image would steer Goa out of the political turbulence and corruption scams that were bogging it down.

Parrikar was like a breath of fresh air for Goans. His popularity soared when he started several infrastructure projects in an effort to put the State back on track. However, Parrikar was asked to move to New Delhi when the BJP won the general election in 2014. Laxmikant Parsekar, who replaced Parrikar, is so unpopular that none of the regional parties want to ally itself with the BJP if he is its chief ministerial candidate.

Goans want change again. Frontline spoke to a cross section of people and found there is deep disappointment with the BJP’s performance since Parrikar left. The local people believe that the party has not delivered on its promises. However, the business/trading community is happy with the BJP. Most of its members feel that with the Congress showing little dynamism, the alternatives are limited and so the vote will depend on candidates more than parties.

“Essentially, it is a numbers game,” a Goa-based analyst said. “It is highly unlikely that the BJP will get a majority this time. We are speculating that it will get between 13 and 17 seats. The Congress will win between 10 and 12. Therefore, parties such as the MGP and Goa Forward will play a critical role. The MGP could secure seven or eight seats. If that happens, it will be a game changer. The MGP recently cut off its ties with the BJP, and Goa Forward broke with the Congress. So it is quite a hotchpotch right now. In Goa, ideology plays a small role. Anything can happen between parties. A patch-up or break-up is par for the course,” he said.

According to Election Commission data, 250 nominations have been filed for the 2017 elections. In 2012, it was 205. The increase indicates a multi-cornered fight in many constituencies, the analyst said. Goa has approximately 11 lakh registered voters. Most of the constituencies have between 20,000 and 30,000 voters. Therefore every vote counts as the margins are often very small.

With its fortunes taking a nosedive, the BJP hit the Goa campaign trail by bringing out all its big guns. Senior leaders Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari and Parrikar toured the State assuring voters that if the BJP is voted back to power Parrikar will be made Chief Minister. Parrikar appears to be the BJP’s only ticket to winning the election and so it played the Parrikar card to its fullest.

Big parties depend on small ones

Parsekar is unpopular mainly because he lacks leadership qualities. Adding to the BJP’s woes, the MGP snapped its ties with the party in December last year after Parsekar sacked Deepak and Sudhin Dhavlikar, its Ministers, for their criticism of his government. Sudhin, according to observers, is an ambitious man and may ask to be made the Chief Minister if the MGP wins more seats.

“Under Parrikar, the State was doing well. The unravelling began when he left. Parsekar is not able to control his Ministers and has no long-term vision. Parrikar was still controlling Goa affairs and, perhaps, Parsekar was just a puppet,” said James Pinto, a BJP worker and businessman in Panjim. “The BJP also keeps harping on development, but it does not seem to have a plank to fight on except Parrikar’s leadership.”

When Parrikar led the BJP to victory in 2012, the large Catholic community in the State was among his biggest supporters. One of the promises he fulfilled was providing grants to English-medium schools run by the diocese. Unfortunately for Parrikar, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) Goa chief, Subash Velingkar, was angry with the move as he is a strong votary of teaching in the mother tongue in primary schools. Velingkar was removed from his position for his public criticism of the BJP government. He launched the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), which has joined forces with the MGP.

The MGP has a right-wing ideology similar to that of the BJP. In fact, the Dhavlikar brothers are known to support the Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindu extremist organisation whose members have been accused by the police of killing the leftist leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, and the scholar M.M. Kalburgi in Dharwad, Karnataka. The brothers have been working hard to build a Hindu vote base. “If their differences are ironed out, the MGP could go back to the BJP as they seem to share the same beliefs,” the analyst said. “It may turn out that the BJP needs the MGP more than the other way.”

The BJP has a strong vote base among the upper middle class and the business community. The powerful casino and hotel lobbies are said to be backing the party. Additionally, “several of the candidates the party has fielded once again have done a fair amount of work in the past four years in their respective constituencies. So it does have a strong line-up,” Pinto said.

Among the BJP’s strongmen are Rajendra Arlekar from Pernem, Dilip Parulekar from Saligao, Dayanand Mandrekar from Mandrem, and Kiran Kandolkar from Thivim.

The Congress appears to have snapped out of its comatose condition. It leans on the veteran leader and former Chief Minister Pratapsinh Rane and believes that Rane’s credibility will instil confidence in the voters. Political observers say that the Congress’ Jennifer Monserrate from Taleigoa, Sankalp Amonkar from Mormugoa and Joseph Sequeira from Calangute will win their seats easily.

“The Congress will win nine seats more than its 2012 tally,” said Francis D’Cunha, a party worker in Calangute. “Unfortunately, the party president and former Chief Minister, Luezinho Faleiro, does not seem to keep the larger picture in view. He has petty squabbles with contestants, which will result in irreparable damage to the party.”

The Congress had an informal agreement with Goa Forward, a new but serious contender for seats. But it botched up the alliance at the last minute, with Faleiro allegedly saying that Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai was a tricky man and was threatening the party. Local people, however, say that this is an old enmity playing itself out. They speculate that Faleiro may have played his cards poorly as Sardesai is extremely popular in the Fatorda constituency, particularly for the civic work he has initiated in the past few years. If Sardesai wins and the Congress needs him, observers say efforts will be made to woo him back.

The party has, however, formed an understanding with the United Goans Party led by Atanasio Monserrate. The colourful Monserrate, also known as Babush, will contest from Panjim and is expected to win.

AAP’s aspirations

More worrying for the Congress, however, has been the entry of the AAP, which is contesting 39 seats. Elvis Gomes, a respected and retired bureaucrat, is the AAP’s chief ministerial candidate. It is expected that the Catholic vote, which usually goes to the Congress, will be for the AAP this time.

AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made quite an impact when he campaigned in south Goa. He touched a chord when he said the AAP’s mission was to root out corruption in the State. He said that if any of the AAP’s candidates were found guilty of illegal activities, they would be thrown out of the party.

In a unique strategy, Gomes started a door-to-door campaign, called the “jhadu yatra” (broom tour), with volunteers distributing leaflets promising schemes, which include unemployment dole and allowances for girls, women, senior citizens and the differently abled. Each leaflet has a counterfoil in which volunteers fill in the contact details of each voter they visited during the campaign. This gives them a database of voters. Additionally, the AAP distributed a credit-card-sized plastic card with Kejriwal’s and Gomes’ contact information and a unique identity number for each voter, which guarantees the holder benefits of the scheme. A tangible promise so to speak.

“Goa’s politicians have gone back on their promises so many times that they are called U-turn politicians,” said Gomes.

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