In Goa, Congress fought a losing battle, but not hard enough to win
The Congress has blamed splitting of the anti-BJP vote for its failure to win a majority in Goa against BJP.
From the national point of view, the first thing that strikes you about the 2022 Goa Assembly election results is the stunting of the Trinamool Congress’s expansion plan for putting up a challenge to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
The TMC was hoping to win a few seats in Goa in order to broad-base its legislative presence. The idea was to change its identity from a regional party to a national party, so as to be able to replace the Congress as the nucleus of a multi-party alliance against the BJP in 2024.
It was a tall dream fuelled by the euphoria of the dramatic success of the party against the BJP in the West Bengal Assembly elections last year. Goa appeared to the party like a tree of low-hanging fruits, what with politicians ready to switch sides. However, the gamble did not work.
The party did not win even a single seat. It lost even its best bet—Churchill Alemao, a former chief minister and a politician who had won Benaulim several times despite jumping party as many times. Its next best bet, Valanka Alemao, Churchill Alemao’s daughter, also sank in the neighbouring constituency of Navelim.
The TMC would have to now try getting a few seats in Karnataka and Rajasthan which are going to polls in 2023 in order to give itself a broad-based identity.
If there is little to cheer for the TMC in Goa, there is not much either for the Congress. The party had won 17 of the 40 seats in 2017; it has won only 11 in 2022. Goa was one of the two states—the other being Uttarakhand—where the party was expecting a good number to be able to form a government.
Rahul Gandhi had a meeting with senior leaders in charge of Goa including P Chidambaram a few days before the counting to approve of government formation and MLA protection plans. Thereafter, the senior leaders were camping in Goa.
The Congress has blamed splitting of the anti-BJP vote for its failure to win a majority. It is true that the TMC, the Aam Aadmi Party, the NCP and a new parochial outfit, the Revolutionary Goans Party, took away chunks of the anti-BJP vote in several constituencies. However, that could only partly explain the Congress losses. After all, the Congress won 11 seats despite the division of votes. The AAP too won two seats despite division of votes.
The real reasons lie elsewhere. The party was not able to rebuild its support in all the constituencies it lost to defectors. Where it was able to, its candidates won the seats by defeating the defectors. Where it was not able to, other parties such as AAP and the Revolutionary Goans Party won. That means there was anger against defectors. Had the Congress worked harder, it could have won back most of the constituencies it lost to defectors. Its tally could then have been higher than eleven.
When an MLA joins another party, they take away some party workers who are personally loyal to them. The Congress needed to replenish that loss with new recruitments. It is not that the party did not try. But it did not try enough.
During the months before the elections P Chidamabaram addressed meetings of party workers throughout Goa. But these meetings were held at the block level. Not much happened other than Chidambaram giving a speech. That was communication of the party’s ideological and rhetorical stances to the workers. The zealous efforts to build the organisation at the grassroots were missing.
No local leader
Then there was a local leadership problem. The Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar had not been able to bring the bickering senior state leaders together and had sent in his resignation to the central leadership two years ago.
The central leadership did not accept his resignation as they could not find a credible alternative to him. That kept the state leadership question in a limbo, which only weakened Chodankar’s hold on the party and made the bickering pettier and more bitter.
That led to desertion by three senior MLAs on the eve of elections. In their constituencies, the party had virtually no time to rebuild. No wonder, it lost all the three constituencies.
Lack of narrative
There was another thing that worked against the Congress. It could not offer a strong narrative to the electorate. Unlike say in UP, where the Yogi government made strong governance and good delivery as its main selling points, the BJP government in Goa failed to do so as Pramod Sawant has proved himself to be a government leader of low calibre. But the Congress failed to capitalize on the poor image of the Sawant government.
Lastly, the central leadership matters. The BJP government in Goa, despite its poor performance, could count on Narendra Modi to add to the party support by inspiring and attracting voters. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi has been losing his appeal. The fact that he is the supreme leader of the party did not add much to the Congress vote in Goa.
However, it would be wrong to write an epitaph for the Congress in Goa. The party won 11 seats, rising from the ashes. Many of its candidates were new and untested. That shows that a large number of voters see the Congress as the main alternative to the BJP in Goa.
However, the challenges to the Congress are compounded with the AAP winning two seats in the state. The party has to fight both the BJP and the AAP. The AAP has eaten into the Congress vote in Delhi and Punjab. The two seats that the AAP has won are among the eight constituencies in South Goa with a large Christian vote, where the BJP does not enjoy much support and the Congress has been winning. The AAP has started nibbling the Congress base.
(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and author of Goa Indica: A Portrait of Postcolonial Goa)