It is battle of nerves for the BJP and the Congress in Goa, a small state with just 40 assembly seats. Going for the poll on February 4, what is unnerving strategists of these two national level parties is the presence of a rookie, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which has potential enough to turn the apple-cart of any established player. Shorn off any electoral base or ideology, the AAP is focusing its energy in cornering youth who appear to be disillusioned with both the ruling BJP and the Congress.
This has turned traditional bastion of the BJP and the Congress into three-cornered contest. Records show that whenever there is a three-cornered contest, the AAP has outshined others. But Goa is not Delhi, nor is the state’s ruling dispensation facing controversies as seen with the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi, resulting in voters turning towards Arvind Kejriwal-headed AAP for redemption.
However, what may prove costly to the BJP and its government in the forthcoming election is the on-going fight between the party and its parent body, the Rashtiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The reason behind their squabbling is Goa’s BJP-led government’s refusal to follow the RSS’s dictates on an issue related to medium of instruction in primary schools. The Sangh wanted implementation of Konkani and Marathi as mediums of instruction. Instead, the BJP government under Manohar Parrikar earlier and Laximikant Parsekar later continued with English as a medium of instruction in primary schools in order to keep local Christians in good humour.
Upset with this, the RSS has announced that it would not support the BJP in Goa. In this circumstance the onus has shifted to the BJP’s central and state leadership to steady the party’s ship in the turbulent political waters of the state. On the other hand, the Congress is in no mood to compromise its chance this time. The overall concern in the state, however, is political instability. Between 1990 and 2002, 13 governments have ruled the state. With the arrival of national parties like the Congress and the BJP in Goa, though, chances of instability have declined, yet they have not completely vanished from the political character of the state.
Twenty one seats are required to form a government in Goa. Although the BJP, the Congress and the APP have put their energy, resources and men to corner as many seats as they could, it is the MGP which is ready to spoil the electoral broth. The regional outfit, known for its conservative Hindutva outlook has decided to contest on 26 seats, leaving the rest for alliance partners like the GSM and the Shiv Sena.
Sharad Pawar-headed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and regional outfits like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP), the Goa Vikas Party (GVP), Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Goa Su-raj Party (GSP) are also in the fray. The Congress which had initially announced contesting polls on seat-sharing basis with the GFP, has now decided to contest election on 37 seats. It would support Independent candidates on the rest three assembly seats.
The party has also decided against projecting anyone as chief ministerial face. It is banking on senior party leader and former Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat to bounce back to power, the possibility of which appears a bit remote in the background of weak organisational strength of the party in the state. If the BJP loses election in Goa, it would be greatest setback for the saffron party, because the state is considered as a formidable bastion of the party after Gujarat.
Despite being handicapped by the nonsupport from the RSS and facing stiff challenge from the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) which is a hardcore Hindutva outfit, the saffron party is hopeful of re-scripting victory again. Possible division of votes of Christians, constituting more than 25 per cent of the state’s total population, between the Congress and the AAP, is the reason behind the BJP’s optimism. But then it is the AAP which is equally looking formidable in the state. Distribution of ticket to candidates much before the election was declared, has given candidates of the AAP an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the voters. Besides, unlike the BJP and the Congress, the AAP has not desisted from projecting the party’s chief ministerial face in the election. Elvis Gomes, a former bureaucrat, has been declared as AAP’s chief ministerial face.
The AAP is focusing on youth, farmers, women and middle class to achieve high electoral gains. The party’s manifesto talks about ridding the state of casinos, gambling, drugs and prostitution rackets. It promises about making Goa a corruption-free, putting corrupt miners behind bars and recovering Rs 36,000 crore that the state has lost on account of illegal mining. The party has also promised bringing in land reforms in the state. Adopting its time-tested door-to-door campaigning method and street dramas to reach out to the voters, the party has promised to do away with protection given to the coconut palm in the name of it being as a forest tree.
The BJP, like elsewhere, has adopted a ‘top-down’ strategy in Goa in which top central leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah address big rallies and then local leaders go door-to-door to meet the voters. By organizing “Vijay Sankalp” rallies, the party has already built momentum across the state. In the 2012 assembly polls, the party had won 21 seats on its own in Goa. In North Goa, it remained victorious in 13 seats. Also, its performance in Christian-dominated South Goa was up to its expectations, winning as many as 8 seats from this part of Goa. This time, given the Goan Churches’ unhappiness with the BJP, despite the state government’s decision to stick to English as a medium of instruction in primary schools, it does not seem that the BJP may be able to perform well in South Goa.
Development and good governance are two key planks of the party which is banking on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s image and reputation to pull out a victory, even though it has not declared anyone as its chief ministerial face in the election.
However, it is the Congress which is trying to cash in on public resentment, especially on employment, legalising of illegal mines and others. Whether the party’s populist schemes like free-electricity to slum dwellers may be able to cut much ice are in the realm of speculation. Development and stability are among the main poll planks of the party.
Migration of people from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and its impact on Goa’s culture is one of issues concerning people in the state. Drug trade and its linkage with the state’s casino business is another major worry of the people; as such they have demanded closer of casinos. Problem of dual nationality faced by Goans is also a key issue.
Even as demonetisation and its consequent impact on cash flow along with the Election Commission’s strict vigil have hit Goan politicians hard as they are not able to reach out to voters as easily as they want, the forthcoming polls are acid test for the ruling BJP. While it has to prove that it can survive the election without the RSS’s support, it has also to ensure that Modi’s magic has not waned.
However, the saffron party can pat its back for the moment as majority of opinion poll surveys show the BJP gaining in the election. Poll survey of India Today-Axis shows the BJP getting 20-24 seats, the Congress 13-15 and the AAP 2-4 seats. Another survey conducted by VDP Associates shows the BJP winning 22 seats, the AAP 9 seats and the Congress 6 seats. But poll surveys or exit polls have in most cases proved wrong in their calculations.
The 2016 presidential election in America is a case in point. None of the poll surveys conducted by newspaper houses or TV channels ever projected Donald Trump as America’s 45th President, but when the results were out, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was not the one whom surveys had declared Barack Obama’s successor.