As the poll scenario in Goa heats up with the belligerent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) trying to wedge itself in the contest and new political outfits throwing their hats in the ring, it seems like yesterday once more in the country’s smallest state.
Since the 1980s, the politics in this tourist haven have been unlike the proverbial Goan `susegad’ lifestyle. They have been marked by hectic disruptions, with politicians shifting allegiances (for example: former Congress chief minister Digambar Kamat was the mining minister under Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government), home grown outfits unsuccessfully challenging national parties and chief ministers playing musical chairs. At least thrice since the 1980s, President’s Rule had been imposed in the state.
If anything, the 2012 polls marked a change in this political rumble tumble when Manohar Parrikar, now defence minister, became the consensus candidate for Goans, as one standing against corruption in the wake of the mining scam. The slipper wearing IITian, who as the leader of opposition crusaded against the mining scam, brought the BJP to power with even the minority Catholic community, independent legislators and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) backing him.
Cut to the present. Water has flown under the Mandovi bridge since 2012. The euphoria with the ruling BJP has died down. The Congress has failed to put up a credible opposition. The AAP is in the mix, but does not have a local face to lead its campaign. A local political party called Goa Forward Party of three independent MLAs is contesting elections and former RSS state chief Subhash Velingker has set up his own outfit, Goa Suraksha Manch, against the ruling BJP and has got Shiv Sena as its ally.
What makes the situation more fluid is the ongoing tussle between BJP and its ally MGP. Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar recently sacked two ministers of MGP following their outburst against the BJP government, raising prospect of new permutations and combinations ahead of polls.
The MGP had said its support would be conditional to BJP sacking Parsekar. In Goa’s political circles, this tussle is being seen as a part of negotiations for seat sharing in the assembly polls.
“There is a chance of BJP coming back to power only because of a lack of a credible alternative in the state. The Congress’s failure to tie up with like-minded parties and legislators through a grand alliance gives advantage to the BJP; otherwise such an alliance can become successful,” said Raju Nayak, editor of the Lokmat, Goa.
“The role of the opposition now is being played by a small home-grown party of three independent legislators called Goa Forward Party; while the AAP is likely to play the role of a spoiler. What Goa needs is strong regional party instead of this high command culture,’’ Nayak added, summarising the poll situation in his state.
There is reason for disenchantment with the ruling BJP and Congress.
In the case of BJP, Parrikar’s successor Parsekar is seen as a compromise candidate whose tenure has, at best, been passable. In the last five years, the ruling party has taken several U-turns on the promises made before the 2012 polls, including granting a special status to Goa, removing shore casinos on Mandovi river that locals see as dens of drugs and prostitution, and zero tolerance for corruption. This has alienated the party from middle class Goans.
The Catholic minority that constitutes 23% of the vote and is decisive in at least eight to 10 out of the 40 seats is also unlikely to support the BJP this time, given the perception of increasing polarisation in the country. They might vote strategically against it.
The Congress has lost a golden opportunity to recover from the mining scam and bring in young faces. Out of the sitting nine legislators, two are likely to defect, while legislator Vishwajeet Rane (son of the leader of the opposition, Pratapsingh Raoji Rane) has hinted at contesting independently under a political outfit floated by him instead of a Congress ticket.
In this scenario, AAP could play a decisive third force but local political observers are not yet convinced with the party’s ability to connect with Goans and win seats. First, AAP is not looking at any alliance or tie-up; and second, it does not have strong local leadership to lead its campaign.
The party’s state convener, Elvis Gomes, a former IPS officer, is likely to be portrayed as the CM candidate, but so far it is party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who is leading the campaign.
“We are very clear that we won’t enter into any alliance and will contest all seats. We have already managed to get in touch with 2/3rd of the households in Goa. We are not into politics of religion, caste, identity. We are seeking votes on the basis of our achievements in Delhi and what we can do for the people of Goa,” said Ashish Talwar, AAP national executive member and political adviser to Kejriwal.
Talwar also questioned why AAP was being singled out for not projecting a chief ministerial face for Goa when no other party had done it. There are many who believe that AAP will be only a spoiler and cut into the Catholic vote bank, in turn helping the BJP.
The role of smaller parties like Goa Forward is likely to be limited to a few seats, while Goa Suraksha Manch will possibly eat into some BJP votes.
For now, it seems like advantage BJP solely because the rest of the contenders haven’t realised it may pay to come together in a Bihar style Mahagatbandhan. However, as a BJP senior functionary said, the fireworks are yet to begin. And in this, the role of the MGP will be crucial.