On a sunny afternoon last October, Aishwarya Salgaonkar, president of the Shiv Sena Goa’s womens’ wing, got a phone call from an unknown number.
The person on the other end identified himself as Jatin and said he was a member of the Indian Political Action Committee, or IPAC – a political consultancy run by Prashant Kishor. According to Salgaonkar, this “Jatin” said he got her number from a local WhatsApp group and wanted to know if she was interested in joining the Trinamool Congress.
The TMC is making its electoral debut in Goa this assembly election. The party has teamed up with IPAC, which is helping the TMC make inroads on the ground. However, several local leaders – who joined the TMC through meetings with IPAC – told Newslaundry they have since quit, accusing the party of making false promises simply to access their local contacts and networks.
While no one from IPAC agreed to speak to Newslaundry on the record, a source with the group said that IPAC was “handling everything” for TMC in Goa.
Newslaundry contacted Hardeep Dugal, principal associate of IPAC, to ask her about these allegations. This report will be updated if she responds.
Salgaonkar had joined the Shiv Sena in 2019 from the Congress. She was also a reporter, and had developed many contacts through her work. During the chat, she said, Jatin called her a “tigress of Goa”, said he would arrange for her to meet Mahua Moitra and Derek O’Brien, and praised her for being renowned in the state.
Flattered, Salgaonkar met with three members of IPAC the following day. Days later, she joined the TMC.
“IPAC members made me promote the TMC, get women registered for schemes, and asked me to add them to my WhatsApp groups,” Salgaonkar told Newslaundry.
But later that month, Salgaonkar departed the Trinamool Congress. She claimed IPAC had lured her with “false promises of election tickets and party posts” to make use of her local contacts – something she alleged they were doing with other local leaders in Goa. Salgaonkar named Jatin Videcha, Shivendra Bikram, Aishwarya Biswas, Tanuj and Ajayveer from IPAC Goa as the people in touch with her.
“And once their work is done,” she said, “they start neglecting them.”
In Salgaonkar’s case, she alleged that she was “offered” a party ticket from Siolim. She claimed she “wasn’t very keen” but agreed, and IPAC promised to spend “Rs 15 crore” on her campaign. As part of her work for the TMC, she claimed she was “subtly” told to organise a crowd of women to attend TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s event in Mapusa on October 30. She was also told that she could make a presentation in front of the Bengal chief minister.
“I went with around 200 women,” she said, adding that, on IPAC’s request, she gave the women’s names and addresses to the IPAC team too. “IPAC members clicked photos of them. When Mamata came, they didn’t introduce me or call me to the stage...Those women who went with me were standing for five or six hours but the IPAC team didn’t even provide lunch packets. Many left feeling agitated. I got angry over this incident.”
Then in December, the TMC launched the Grihalakshmi scheme in Goa, promising to give Rs 5,000 every month to women if the party was voted to power in the state.
“They used my videos to promote it,” Salgaonkar said. “From 8.30 am to late evening, I used to roam around with them, meeting people. They employed young Goan boys and girls for Rs 700 per day to register people for schemes..."
It should be noted that last month, the Congress and the Goa Forward Party with the Election Commission, alleging that the TMC and IPAC were collecting voter data in a “dubious” manner by enrolling people for schemes.
What drove her to finally quit the TMC was during a December event in Goa, when the TMC announced its alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.
“Before the function, IPAC called and told me I have to be present on stage,” she said. “When I reached, they told me I cannot sit on stage. When I was about to sit in the front row, an IPAC guy told me those seats are for VIPs and I should go and sit with party workers at the back.”
This was “very disrespectful”, she said, and so she resigned in January, even though she had just been appointed vice-president of the Goa Trinamool Mahila Congress Committee a day before.
Salgaonkar complained that despite IPAC’s promises, she never actually got to meet Moitra, O’Brien, or Prashant Kishor. “I did have political ambitions and thought that by joining the TMC, my career will get a boost,” she said. “But that was my biggest political mistake.”
She added, “I gave them all my contacts in Goa. Using them, they reached out to other people as well. They were applying this strategy across Goa to expand their network. IPAC thinks we Goans are fools. But Goans will teach them a nice lesson on voting day.”
‘Cheating local people’
Kenneth Silveira, a social activist in Goa, told Newslaundry a similar story. He joined the TMC in November and was promised a ticket from Dabolim. By January, he had resigned.
Silveira said he had been courted by IPAC since August last year, through multiple phone calls. He said he had a meeting with Mahua Moitra at his home in November and then joined the TMC.
“They told me they want me to contest the election from Dabolim and that they will spend Rs 15 crore on my campaign,” he said. “...They persuaded me to start campaigning with them and help connect them with other people in the area.”
He claimed someone from IPAC offered “financial assistance” and gave him Rs 25,000 as a “token of appreciation” though he purportedly “did not spend a single rupee from it”.
So, from November to January, Silveira started his campaign but he claimed IPAC had gone silent. “I spent around Rs 2.5 lakh from my own pocket,” he complained, “and then suddenly they gave the ticket to another person.”
Describing the TMC and IPAC as “a bunch of frauds”, Silveira accused both organisations of “cheating local people”.
“They persuade local Goans to join them. Then they make promises of giving tickets and posts,” he said. “At the time of joining, they will make you listen to what you want to hear. But gradually, their story starts changing. They manipulate and fool people. I am not the only one whom they have cheated.”
Lavoo Mamledar, a retired deputy superintendent of police, is a former MLA. He was elected on a Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party ticket in 2012 but lost the election five years later. He then left the party after falling out with the MGP leadership – Deepak Dhavalikar and his brother Sudin – in 2019.
In September 2021, Mamledar said he was approached by the TMC via IPAC.
“They asked me to join the TMC and said they will finance my election campaign,” he said. “I got tempted by the offer...So, I was inducted into the party in the presence of Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, in Kolkata. I wanted to fight the election from Madkai and they promised me a ticket.”
Mamledar convinced 100 other people to join the TMC in Goa, he claimed, but he soon realised IPAC in Goa was “inducting other influential people as well and promising everyone a ticket”.
“They were promising one ticket to five or six people from each and every constituency and inducting them into the party,” he alleged. “Every leader who was inducted was asked to induct 100 others. They were misleading people and using them to increase the TMC’s strength.”
For Mamledar, the tipping point was when the TMC partnered with the MGP – and he claimed he only heard about it when he read the news in the papers.
“I was among the first 10 people in Goa to join the TMC. When we joined, they said, ‘You guys are state leaders.’ Just imagine being a state leader but not even knowing about plans of an alliance,” he said. “After the alliance, I couldn’t have fought against Sudin Dhavalikar in Madkai because they made an alliance with them. After these developments, I left the party.”
But his from the TMC mentioned nothing about this “cheating” by IPAC – it focused on his disappointment with its alliance with the MGP. Mamledar two weeks later.
Mamledar believes a “lot of people” are leaving the TMC due to IPAC’s actions. “They cannot just parachute into our state and use our contacts to expand their base,” he said.
Yateesh Naik, a lawyer and former Congress member, had formally joined the TMC in September during a ceremony in Kolkata attended by Mamata Banerjee. A prominent personality in the state, he was the party’s general secretary until he resigned in January, angered at not getting a ticket from Saligao.
In his resignation letter addressed to Banerjee, Naik said he felt “humiliated and dejected” and “cannot afford the party to treat me in this fashion by not honouring its words”.
He had held door-to-door campaigns in villages after “IPAC and TMC” allegedly assured him of being the TMC candidate from Saligao. But when the TMC released its first two candidate lists, his name didn’t feature in it – and there were only two days to go to file nominations.
“I feel completely let down that the party felt that the names of people hopping from other parties at the last minute had found mention in the list, and not mine,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
‘They didn’t connect on the ground’
A source in IPAC’s Goa team told Newslaundry that the TMC started its campaign “very late” in Goa and had no cadres on the ground. But the final decision of allotting tickets rests with the party.
“So, IPAC was handling everything, right from promoting individual candidates to getting people on board,” they said, adding that IPAC was “involved in fixing money” with potential candidates.
The source also claimed Kishor had been “overconfident” and IPAC has now been “smashed badly” in Goa.
“TMC came here with a lot of promotion,” they said. “But now, a lot of Goans feel it is an outsider party...They didn’t connect on the ground. One cannot win an election just by doing digital and other kinds of promotions...The only reason to come to Goa was to cut the votes of the Congress and to create Mamata Banerjee as an alternative at the national level.”
Cleofato Coutinho, a Goa-based lawyer and political analyst, said IPAC had “built a narrative that they will win the elections in three months”.
“They took every hoarding and every pole in Goa to advertise,” he said. “They projected themselves as though they have the resources to spend Rs 10 crore in every constituency. They lured runners-up from the Congress. They tried to create a wave that the Congress is useless and cannot fight the BJP. They approached a lot of leaders in Goa and many of them left when the promised money and, in some cases, tickets were not given to them. Besides adding resources, TMC has not done anything.”
He concluded, “They are not going to survive in Goa and will end up like the NCP in the near future.”
This story is part of the NL Sena project which our readers contributed to. It was made possible by Abel Sajaykumar, Devaki Khanna, Subhrajit Chakraborty, Somok Gupta Roy, Sathya, Shubhankar Mondal, Sourav Agrawal, Karthik, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Uma Rajagopalan, HS Kahlon, Shreya Sethuraman, Vinod Gubbala, Anirban Bhattacharjee, Rahul Gupta, Rejith Rajan, Abhishek Thakur, Rathindranath Das, Farzana Hasan, Animesh Narayan, A J, Nidhi Manchanda, Rahul Bhardwaj, Kirti Mishra, Sachin Tomar, Raghav Nayak, Rupa Banerjee, Akash Mishra, Sachin Chaudhary, Udayan Anand, Karan Mujoo, Gaurab S Dutta, Jayanta Basu, Abhijnan Jha, Ashutosh Mittal, Sahit Koganti, Ankur, Sindhu Kasukurthy, Manas, Akshay Sharma, Mangesh Sharma, Vivek Maan, Sandeep Kumar, Rupa Mukundan, P Anand, Nilkanth Kumar, Noor Mohammed, Shashi Ghosh, Vijesh Chandera, Rahul Kohli, Janhavi G, Dr Prakhar Kumar, Ashutosh Singh, Saikat Goswami, Sesha Sai T V, Srikant Shukla, Abhishek Thakur, Nagarjuna Reddy, Jijo George, Abhijit, Rahul Dixit, Praveen Surendra, Madhav Kaushish, Varsha Chidambaram, Pankaj, Mandeep Kaur Samra, Dibyendu Tapadar, Hitesh Vekariya, Akshit Kumar, Devvart Poddar, Amit Yadav, Harshit Raj, Lakshmi Srinivasan, Atinderpal Singh, Jaya Mitra, Raj Parab, Ashraf Jamal, Asif Khan, Manish Kumar Yadav, Saumya Parashar, Naveen Kumar Prabhakar, Lezo, Sanjay Dey, Ahmad Zaman, Mohsin Jabir, Sabina, Suresh Uppalapati, Bhaskar Dasgupta, Pradyut Kumar, Sai Sindhuja, Swapnil Dey, Sooraj, Aparajit Varkey, Brendon Joseph D’souza, Zainab Jabri, Tanay Arora, Jyoti Singh, M Mitra, Aashray Agur, Imran, Dr. Anand Kulkarni, Sagar Kumar, Sandeep Banik, Mohd Salman, Sakshi, Navanshu Wadhwani, Arvind Bhanumurthy, Dhiren Maheshwari, Sanjeev Menon, Anjali Dandekar, Farina Ali Kurabarwala, Abeera Dubey, Ramesh Jha, Namrata, Pranav Kumar, Amar Nath, Anchal, Sahiba Lal, Jugraj Singh, Nagesh Hebbar, Ashutosh Mhapne, Sai Krishna, Deepam Gupta, Anju Chauhan, Siddhartha Jain, Avanish Dureha, Varun Singhal, Akshay, Sainath Jadhav, Shreyas Singh, Ranjeet Samad, Vini Nair, Vatsal Mishra, Aditya Chaudhary, Jasween, Pradeep, Nilesh Vairagade, Manohar Raj, Tanya Dhir, Shaleen Kumar Sharma, Prashant Kalvapalle, Ashutosh Jha, Aaron D'Souza, Shakti Verma, Sanyukta, Pant, Ashwini, Firdaus Qureshi, Soham Joshi, Ankita Bosco, Arjun Kaluri, Rohit Sharma, Betty Rachel Mathew, Sushanta Tudu, Pardeep Kumar Punia, Dileep Kumar Yadav, Neha Khan, Omkar, Vandana Bhalla, Surendra Kumar, Sanjay Chacko, Abdullah, Aayush Garg, Mukarram Sultan, Abhishek Bhatia, Tajuddin Khan, Vishwas Deshpande, Mohammed Ashraf, Jayati Sood, Aditya Garg, Nitin Joshi, Partha Patashani, Anton Vinny, Sagar Rout, Vivek Chandak, Deep Chudasama, Khushboo Matwani, Virender Bagga, Keyur Gokhale, Shelly Singh, Goldwin Fonseca, Upasana Gupta, Leslie Isaac, Stephen, Anupam Kumar, Nishanth Perathara, Sudin, Bhavin Ved, Sriram Arthanari, Sanjit Mehta, Shashank Shekhar, Somsubhro Chaudhuri, Pallavi Das, Animesh Chaudhary, Dr Avishek Ghosh, Bharat Kumar, Renain Safi, Kanhu Kishore Nanda, Shubham Wankhede, Jagbir Lehl, Bharadwaj Upadyaya, Mohamed Suhair, Keith Rebelo, Saurabh, Aman Seth, Himanshu Singh, Malwika Chitale, Mohit Chelani, Abhishek Thakur, Utpal Kar, Abdul Aziz Abdul Gafoor, Aditya Kumar Tiwari, Chanchal K Mitra, Subhojit Bakshi, Jitendra Kumar, Subhransu Panda, Vaibhav V, Neerja Jain, Muzamil, Parminder Randhawa, Aishwarya Ghaisas, Siddharth Kulkarni, Fadil Sherrif, Jomy Mathew, Asim, Senthil Kumar Sakthivel, Abhimanyu Sinha, Srinivas Addepalli, Pratul Nema, Varun B Kothamachu, Aarushi Mittal, Sushil Gulati, George Isaac, Sameer Naik, Saurabh Naik, Ragesh Vyas, Vishal Sodani, Muhammad Shafeeque, Vivek Ashokan, Rachita Dutta, Sayani Dasgupta, Ashutosh Singh, Shrinjay, Siju Mathew, Paul Lazarus, Thufir Hawat, Kruttika Samant, Shireesh Vasupalli and other NL Sena members.
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