Fly in fly out: Why turncoats sit pretty in Goa

Fly in fly out: Why turncoats sit pretty in Goa

Midway through the election battle, Mamata Banerjee has realized she cannot defeat the BJP alone. She wants the Congress to join her. That was not the case in the beginning. She came on a high horse from Bengal, gung ho, adventuresome and cocksure she could vanquish the BJP in Goa all by herself as she did in her state.

The Congress is playing deaf to her appeal. There are several reasons for it. One, much as the Trinamool Congress claims monopoly over non-BJP space in West Bengal, allowing the Congress no room, the Congress claims monopoly over that space in Goa and would not allow the TMC any room. As a matter of fact, the Congress, even though on decline, still has a support base in West Bengal, whereas the TMC has no base at all in Goa. The Congress view is: why should it ally with a party that is going to bring no votes?

Secondly, says the Congress, the TMC cannot be both its friend and foe. The TMC started in Goa by poaching high-level and middle-level Congress leaders. It continued doing so for two months and then it started talking about an alliance with the Congress. Naturally, the Congress responded to the proposal with a silence brimming with bitterness and resentment. The party could not make an alliance with a party that was bent upon breaking it.

So, now, the TMC is stuck. In the second and third week of January, when the Congress, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party had decided on the names of nominees for most of the constituencies, the TMC was still struggling to find candidates for several of them. On top of it, Alexio Lourenco, one of the Congress MLAs the TMC had poached, and whom the party was expected to project as its chief ministerial candidate, resigned from the party within less than a month of joining it. The party had put up his face together with Mamata Banerjee’s on large posters across the state. Now they have to find a candidate for his constituency, Curtorim too, which once they had counted as a secure seat.

For another constituency, Fatorda, the TMC, not being able to find any other candidate, has nominated Luizinho Faleiro, former chief minister and former state Congress president. Faleiro, who was a Congress MLA, was the TMC’s first big catch in Goa. Faleiro’s deal with Mamata was that he be elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha and he would vacate his seat, Navelim, for a TMC candidate and he would lead the party campaign in the state. The party not only made him a Rajya Sabha MP but also a national vice president.

Everything was going fine for Faleiro until suddenly one day he was told by the party leadership to fight for the Fatorda Assembly seat. It was not part of the deal that he would be fielded for an Assembly seat. He did not know anyone in Fatorda. That showed the desperation of the TMC. They were unable to find candidates of some stature.

Self goal

The TMC’s problems are of its own creation. The party had no time to prepare for elections. It was a party in a hurry. It decided on a strategy to build the party from the top down, rather than from the bottom up, by poaching established politicians from other parties and quickly spreading across the state with their combined influence. That strategy has failed.

The party remained limited to three established leaders—Luizhino Faleiro, Alexio Lourenco and Churchill Alemao—who had no pan-Goa appeal and were limited to their constituencies. Lourenco has quit, so there are only two of them.

The TMC has given up the hope of winning the popular mandate and is betting on a few seats. Mahua Moitra is now saying even if the party wins a few seats it would be a victory because it started with zero. That seems like a realistic assessment.

Also read: Aaya Rams Gaya Rams keep election pundits guessing in Goa

But what about the Congress? To begin with, they have the advantage of the support of the Christians and Muslims who make up over 30 percent of the electorate. The church plays a role in influencing Christian vote in the state. The message that is going out from the church to the Christians is that the ‘secular’ vote should not be divided. That goes in favour of the Congress. The Congress may also have the advantage of gaining a larger share of the anti-government vote than the TMC or AAP, because it has a much wider base.

The AAP fought the last Assembly elections and won no seat. It has used a good amount of money in the past couple of years to distribute free food to every family and fund its propaganda through the media and other channels. But in the end, it has proven to be a party no different from others, because it has admitted and given tickets to politicians who crossed over from other parties.

Paper flights

In the past four months, shreds of resignation letters of politicians have been flying about in Goa like scraps of paper in a wind. Political parties have become like airports with some people arriving, some people departing. Much like fish, political loyalty is on sale all over the state.

Will the sale of loyalty stop after the elections? The answer is no. The BJP is not in a very secure state going into elections. Even in the last elections it had gotten only 13 out of the total of 40 seats. The situation for it has not improved but only worsened with the many failures of the Pramod Sawant government. However, the party should not be much worried as it is now guided by the Amit Shah doctrine which holds: “We win or lose, we shall rule.”

On January 22, the Congress took all its candidates to revered places of worship—a temple, a church and a mosque—and made each one take an oath with God as witness that he or she would not cross over to another party after the elections. Even the AAP has promised to make its candidates sign an affidavit that they would not defect.

The Goa system

However, neither the oath nor the affidavit may work. The reason is in Goa, constituencies are small. An average constituency has 25,000 voters. An increasing number of politicians have built up solid individual vote banks in their constituencies by buying the loyalty of families by getting them government jobs and helping them financially and logistically in cases of illness and wedding, even paying annual fees for children’s education in private schools. These politicians make money out of public exchequer and use a little to buy the voters’ loyalty. These politicians have become bigger than political parties. It does not matter which party they are in. Nor does it for their voters. Between them and the voters, there is a debt and obligation system working.

And the BJP has made it easier for these politicians. The party successfully stonewalled the disqualification petitions against the 10 MLAs of Congress and two MLAs of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) who defected to the party in 2019. That was the BJP’s message to future defectors that nothing will happen to them when they go over to them.

(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and author)

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