Multiple contenders and the proverbial Aaya Rams and Gaya Rams have made the contest for the Goa assembly elections wide open, keeping the political parties at tenterhooks.
As Congress continues to ignore overtures for a grand opposition alliance, the BJP may on the face of it appear to be in an advantageous position, thanks to a fragmented opposition. But a sneak peek into the BJP camp will reveal the party is desperately missing a “widely accepted” leader like its charismatic former chief minister late Manohar Parrikar to keep its flock together.
Already two of its alliance partners the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) — the oldest regional party of the coastal state — and the Goa Forward Party (GFP) have deserted it. The two regional outfits had helped the BJP retain power in 2017 despite the saffron party winning fewer seats than the Congress.
Throwing coalition dharma to the winds, the BJP had engineered a split in the MGP and subsequently dumped the GFP after its utility was over following a dozen Congress legislators donning the saffron colour.
This politics of acquisition has now come back to haunt the BJP as the GPF has now joined hands with the Congress and the MGP allied with the new entrant in Goa politics, the Trinamool Congress. Many Congress turncoats have now extracted their pound of flesh securing tickets for them as well as their spouses, creating heartburns for the genuine party functionaries.
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The BJP announced its first list of 34 candidates on Thursday (January 20 ) after postponing it twice earlier. First, it had scheduled the release of the candidate list on January 16. Then it was postponed to January 19.
Former Congressman Vishwajit Rane apart from his candidature from Valpoi also secured ticket for his wife Divya from the Poreim seat. He had shifted to the BJP soon after the 2017 assembly elections.
Another import from Congress Atanasio Monserrate, who joined the BJP in 2019, pipped Utpal Parrikar, son of Manohar Parrikar, in the race for the BJP nomination from Panaji. Monserrate’s wife Jennifer, a minister in the current BJP government, also got nominated from Taleigaon seat.
In Mandrem constituency, after pussyfooting for days, the BJP finally had to pick former Congress legislator Dayanand Sopte over former chief minister and senior BJP leader Laxmikant Parsekar.
Giving preference to former Congressmen in the ticket distribution, some BJP insiders caution, would trigger an internal strife. Those denied tickets may jump ship.
After the exodus of five of its legislators, four of them Christians, the BJP is desperately trying to consolidate its core vote base. A further division in its ranks will severely upset its poll-strategy.
BJP MLA from Nuvem and a prominent Christian face Wilfred D’sa resigned from the party on Wednesday, the fifth to do so ahead of February 14 elections.
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“I have decided to contest as an independent candidate as my well-wishers and supporters urged me not to contest from the BJP,” he said.
The BJP’s relation with the church has reportedly soured after the demise of Manohar Parrikar, prompting many of its Christian legislators to distance themselves from the party fearing backlash from their supporters.
Earlier this month, the party’s tallest Christian leader Michael Lobo left the BJP to join the Congress. Prior to him two other Christian legislators Carlos Almeida and Alina Saldanha too deserted the BJP. Another minority MLA and minister Filipe Neri Rodriguez is also planning to quit the ruling BJP.
Praveen Zantye is the other BJP MLA who recently left the party. He has joined the MGP.
Goa’s over 25 per cent Christian population is a deciding factor in many of the constituencies, particularly in the southern part of the state. The South Goa district, where Christians constitute 36.21 percent of the total population, elects 17 legislators.
In the outgoing assembly 15 out of the 27 BJP MLAs were Christians. This time the BJP gave tickets to only nine candidates from the minority community.
The opposition is hoping to take advantage of the Christian resentment against the BJP. But their task has not been made easy by the presence of too many players. The Congress, the TMC, the AAP and the NCP-Shiv Sena combine are vying for the anti-BJP space.
Their cause has been further weakened by the speed in which some of the leaders of these parties are switching loyalties. Most opposition parties, barring the Congress, have hardly any organisational base in the coastal state and hence they are mostly depending on poaching to field their ranks.
Consider the following, the TMC, the latest entrant into state politics, formed its first-ever state committee and block committees on January 18, the day it announced its first list of 11 candidates.
The TMC’s poll hopes in the state are mainly rested on its two heavyweight catches namely Liizinho Joaquim Falerio from the Congress and Churchill Alemao from the NCP. Its other prized catch from the Congress Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco decamped the TMC barely a month after joining it because, he said, his supporters did not endorse his decision as they considered the ruling party of Bengal as an “outsider”.
Another Goa MLA Lavoo Mamledar had left the TMC in December barely three months after joining the party accusing it of trying to create a rift between Hindus and Christians.
Such somersaults have made the Goa elections more intriguing this time, keeping everybody guessing.