Goa bypolls: Morale booster for Manohar Parrikar, close call for allies
Goa has a history of political instability in times of fractured mandates, and the coalition arrangement in power is probably one of the most ideologically diverse, cobbled together purely for the fruits of powerUpdated: Sep 01, 2017 18:12 IST
The local newspapers on Monday were awash with photographs of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in celebratory mode after his by-election victory. In one photograph, flanked by a dozen supporters, Parrikar does a victory round riding an open jeep through the streets of Panaji, the constituency he won yesterday for the sixth time. More interesting yet, are two photographs of the BJP chief minister with folded hands inside the iconic Panjim Church giving thanks and receiving the blessings of the parish priest. The symbolism of these pictures is lost on no one. An unambiguous warning sent out through a church magazine, cautioned voters to consider the larger picture of growing intolerance and the rise of fascism in the country.
“There was an attempt to polarise the vote and create a fear factor, but corruption and communalism does not work with me,” Parrikar said after the results came in. He won the seat the BJP has held for 23 years by defeating the former Youth Congress leader Girish Chodankar by 4800 votes. But the ‘comfortable’ margin — much lower than what he polled in 2012 — doesn’t quite reflect the anxiety in the BJP camp in the run-up to the poll after the Congress candidate’s campaign began to pick up. From a position of total command, because the Congress didn’t even have a candidate to take on Parrikar after its former MLA Babush Monserrate switched allegiance to the BJP ally Goa Forward virtually on the eve of the election, and others were persuaded to withdraw from the contest, the chief minister was compelled to press ministers and allies who were once his worst critics, into campaign mode.
The BJP’s victory in the two seats, Panaji and Valpoi, which was convincingly picked up by Vishvajit Rane, the son of former Congress chief minister Pratapsingh Rane, is a morale booster for Parrikar and the BJP which has been criticised for the dubious manner in which it came to power in Goa after its defeat in the February 4 election. But it is certainly no “stamp of approval”, as Parrikar argued on Monday, for the motley coalition that currently runs Goa. Monday’s result takes the BJP’s tally up by just one seat to 14, in the 40-member house. The Congress with 16 seats and the NCP with one, are still in a position to pose a threat to the government which is being run by the BJP with the backing of three Goa Forward (GF) members, three Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) MLAs and three independents.
Goa has a history of political instability in times of fractured mandates, and the coalition arrangement in power is probably one of the most ideologically diverse, cobbled together purely for the fruits of power. Till a few months ago, Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai ran a strident campaign on an anti-BJP plank. A former Congress member, Sardesai’s very continuance in power today depends on the political health of the BJP and its chief minister.
So far, Manohar Parrikar has run the government these past five months on a pragmatic agenda of appeasing his allies. The MGP and GF have cornered all the plum portfolios, from tourism to transport to PWD and town and country planning. But the BJP can no longer claim the high moral ground. Sitting in its very ranks and on the cabinet team are MLAs it had put on notice for corruption when in the Congress. Rane Jr (as Vishvajit is known here), Mauvin Godinho, Pandurang Madkaikar, Vijai Sardesai, to name just a few.
One of the few states in the country where it hasn’t been trampled into oblivion, the Congress finds itself in danger of losing one of its strongest pockets. The defection of Pratapsingh Rane’s son Vishvajit to the BJP—father and son now face each other from opposite sides in the state legislative assembly—is bound to have serious repercussions for the Congress in three constituencies in the Sattari taluka. In Panaji too, the party’s lack of an organisational structure at the grassroots was apparent. Waiting for a groundswell of support to stir up on its own serves no purpose, specially since the BJP seems prepared to go to any lengths and make political compromises of all sorts for a Congress-less India.
Devika Sequeira is a senior journalist based in Goa
The views expressed are personal