In election season, there is a thin line separating party loyalty and potential rebellion. This line is often marked by the distribution of tickets.
It isn’t unusual to see a huge gathering of ticket hopefuls at party offices. They include long-time party loyalists, heavyweights, as well as newly inducted ones. Once the list of candidates is released, as seen again in the run-up to the forthcoming polls in five states, the reactions include placid faces exercising patience as a political virtue, some sulking murmurs of disquiet, and some clear voices of protest.
Some of these rejections can even end poignantly, in tears, or with threats of self-immolation, or even opting to visit a police station to lodge complaints against the party’s betrayal.
The usual protest, however, is shown by siding with a rival party or floating a political front oneself. There is also the question of more resourceful ticket-seekers who, assured about themselves, try to get tickets for their coterie of followers within the party. Failure can spur a few of them to attempt a sabotage of the party’s prospects in the constituency. The same danger is sometimes posed by a few sitting legislators who would not get the party’s nod for a shot at re-election.
In Uttar Pradesh, all major political parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and Congress – have been witness to such an outburst of . A significant part of the pre-poll battle for major parties in the fray is about managing the ticket distribution. This entails keeping a check on the fallout of resenting hopefuls who did not find their names on the list. Or, if they did, they weren’t fielded from the constituencies of their choice.
In Goa, the BJP is grappling with the repercussions of its decision to deny a ticket to Utpal Parrikar, the son of former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, to contest from the Panaji seat. Instead, the BJP offered Utpal another constituency to contest – the Bicholim seat, located 25 km from the state capital.
Utpal rejected their offer, quit the BJP, and announced his decision to contest as an independent candidate.
His father had been the legislator from Panaji for two decades, from 1994 to 2014. This had a short hiatus of three years when he joined the union cabinet as defence minister. He again represented Panaji when he resumed work as Goa chief minister in 2017.
After his death in 2019, Babush Monserrate, then a Congress leader, won the bypoll. Monserrate subsequently joined the BJP with 10 Congress MLAs.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP in-charge of Goa, made a reconciliatory effort by talking about the two choices of seats offered to Utpal. The party was keen to avoid a scenario of Utpal contesting as an independent from Panaji. Fadnavis was quick to add that the party held the Parrikar family and the late Manohar Parrikar’s legacy in high esteem.
In its official stand, the BJP has taken the “sitting MLA” line to explain its decision of fielding Monserrate from Panaji. This might not cut much ice with how the party has strategised the list of candidates for the assembly polls in different states over the past few years. The party is known to have adopted the approach of discarding one-third of sitting MLAs to contain anti-incumbency as well as to punish those whom the party’s study has marked as non-performing.
In his earlier remarks, the state party in-charge also alluded to the BJP’s stand of non-preferential treatment to the kith and kin of leaders as a criterion. Fadnavis said that being Manohar Parrikar’s son, or anybody’s son, does not qualify one to get a BJP ticket.
But Utpal did not, by any means, buy this line of party defence. He was quick to argue that the party had overlooked his integrity, character and winnability in opting for Monserrate who has a past record of serious criminal cases against him.
In a small state where every seat matters and the senior Parrikar continues to have political goodwill, the BJP cannot downplay the blowback of Utpal’s counter-moves. Even if the party cites the principle of not going with the idea of inherited charisma, it is alert to how parties like the AAP are offering the sympathy card to bring Parrikar junior on board. This is clear in how Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant sharply reacted to AAP convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s offer of his party’s ticket to Utpal.
However, the larger question is how the politics of accommodation and retention in an expectedly tight election may have forced the BJP to side with Monserrate.
Since 1963, Goa has had seven coalition governments out of 13 that have been formed. Even the incumbent BJP government in the state was formed after deft political footwork of a Machiavellian mould. With only 13 seats in the 40-member assembly, the BJP stitched up a quick coalition with two regional parties – Goa Forward Party and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party – as well as two independents. The Congress, with 17 legislators, had to sit in opposition, and later saw 15 MLAs deserting the party with 10 joining the BJP. Today, it stands reduced to two MLAs, while the challenge has broadened with parties like AAP and Trinamool Congress making their presence felt in the campaign in a bid to spread their national wings. The TMC has struck an alliance with the MGP while the Congress has partnered with the GFP. The other alliance is of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena.
As the electoral turf of 40 seats again sees a battle for every inch, with multiple players and coalitions, a number of post-poll scenarios aren’t out of sight. In a close race expected to head towards a stalemate, the BJP perhaps recognises the need to consolidate the cross-party gains it made in poaching opposition MLAs and holding on to a shaky majority. The decision to retain Monserrate’s candidature and the perceived snub to junior Parrikar, however, would have its share of rough edges for the party to deal with. There are already murmurs that the party might have alienated the Saraswat community to which the Parrikar family belongs, and even made little effort to repair the bridges that the senior Parrikar’s leadership built with the Catholics.
The decision on the Panaji seat had the cold reasoning of poll expediency pitched as the high-mindedness of countering nepotism. In the process, however, the party could be seen as bargaining the legacy of a leader who is not too distant in public memory. In a battle of perceptions, this may force the BJP in Goa in a damage control mode sooner rather than later.