Assembly Elections 2017: With the Goa defeat, BJP is left leaderless in the state
In Goa, the BJP lost, heavily. Many of its top leaders, including its night-watchman chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, paid the price for heading an arrogant government, and lost at the hustings. But this cannot be read as a win for the Congress.
The two national parties will continue to dominate the numbers game in the 40-seat assembly here.
Two local parties, the newly-formed Goa Forward (swearing by Goa-Goans-Goanity), and the shrunken giant of the 1960s, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (which retains its ‘pro-Maharashtra’ name), can at best play a kingmaker’s role. Or, they’d have to opportunistically tag along with either of the bigger two parties. The Independents have only the latter option.
This vote reflects a deeper disenchantment among the electorate. It also exposed the slipping grip of Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who will have to decide between Delhi or Panaji. (His Panjim seat was narrowly won by his BJP successor.) The rise of new players on the block, with their own agendas and reasons, could also change affairs here.
AAP’s poor showing in the seats tally was expected, given that it was pushed aside by the bigger parties, despite its determined and musically-tasteful campaign.
These elections saw the return of soft polarisation based on religion and caste. Oddly enough, the BJP, in power since 2014, was caught in the midst of this, and actually lost out with different pockets of votes going in diverse directions to the detriment of the ruling party. This could be read as the limitations of the politics of polarisation.
Way back in 1963, in its first elections after the end of Portuguese rule, Goa opted for caste and religion as its basis for voting. That happened long before the rest of India got caught up with more intense identity politics.
Once again, Goa has repeated history. On the surface, the results seem almost secular and balanced. But the signs are there to read.
Just before the elections, the BJP lost its alliance partner, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) that which traditionally had a lower-caste Hindu tag. This time round, the BJP was unable to deprive the Congress of its minority Catholic supporters in areas like Goa’s only Catholic-majority taluka of Salcete, in the coastal south.
In 2014, it had smartly deployed ‘independents’, some of them popular ex-footballers, to make sure candidates of the Congress, then seen as corrupt, mostly lost in Salcete. This time, the independents were already branded as ministers of the BJP, and not above minority suspicion.
Unlike the previous Parrikar-overseen elections, this time the ruling party could not leverage smart if covert social media campaigns, or play up intense voter ire against the Congress. This only acts as a reminder of how intensely angry voters can be about government policies which appear to ride roughshod over them, in one of India’s most affluent states.
The wafer-thin victory margins of some candidates cannot be overlooked either.
Blame it on overconfidence, or plain arrogance, the BJP, which was a very effective Opposition before 2014, took a number of contentious decisions while in power. Its stance on unpopular riverine casinos (just outside Panaji) got the party, and Parrikar, the U-turn label. On mining, the humongous leakage figures the BJP claimed resulted in nothing when it came to power.
On the contentious ‘medium of instruction’ imbroglio, it could satisfy neither pro-Konkani/Marathi nor pro-English parents, but worked out some ad-hoc solution. It left a poor record in administration, more so after Parrikar moved to Delhi. The BJP earned the dubious reputation of declassifying Goa’s much-loved coconut tree as a tree and, as the (untrue) rumour went round, treating it as a ‘grass’.
Other issues, mostly unnoticed outside, would be the ‘match-fixing’ that Goa’s politicians oblige each other with (sometimes across party lines); the local industrial or mining agendas pushed by politicians and their parties; and the manner in which Goan politicians can change parties like they change shirts.
The game might have just begun in Goa. It’s anyone’s guess whether India’s smallest state could return to the intense political instability of the 1990s (which vanished for little-understood reasons for the past decade-and-half).
The BJP is left leaderless and quite orphaned; this was felt even after the departure of Parrikar who headed virtually a one-man government here. But, history will also tell the Congress that frequent instability is the price Goa pays when the local ruling party differs from the political colours of that in the national capital.
The first steps to power also go through the Cabo Raj Bhavan, the 17th-century former colonial Palacio do Cabo, whose incumbent is a BJP nominee.
Frederick Noronha is a journalist based in Goa.
The views expressed are personal.