The volume of newbies is confounding political analysts, and everyone from Nehru to Manohar Parrikar is being used to score points.
In the run-up to February 14, Goa’s election day, It wouldn’t be unreal to believe you’re entering a spectral world of ghosts and the dead. Every leader is summoning someone who’s passed on.
There’s prime minister Narendra Modi’s perpetual invocation of the ghost of Nehru – two days ago, in the market town of Mapusa in north Goa, he reiterated yet again how India’s first prime minister had refused to send the army to liberate Goa at the time of independence because he wanted to keep his image as a leader of peace. Modi did not offer any historical data to back this idiotic insinuation.
Then there’s the ghost of the late Manohar Parrikar, the former and revered chief minister who stalks the BJP at campaign rallies and public meetings, even as party leaders have ruthlessly snubbed his son, Utpal. Utpal retaliated by striking out on his own to claim his father’s legacy in the capital city of Panjim.
As a schoolteacher in Merces, St Cruz, says gloomily, “We need honest leaders, not exorcists.”
But as villagers guffaw, they say it’s the ghost of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who stalks the towns and old villages as dusk falls – floating out from the little packages and envelopes of cash used by competing party leaders to entice and lure the weary but vigilant public.
There are two days to go to the ballot box. While sworn fan club voters of established parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party stay steadfastly loyal, there’s utter confusion and commotion among those who are unsure, wavering or demanding a new political culture in the banana republic of Goa. The distraction comes from disruptors like the Aam Aadmi Party, which has been around since the last election in 2017, and new entrants like the boisterous Trinamool Congress and even the Revolutionary Goans Party. There’s also disgruntled party members who have jumped in as independents after being denied tickets by traditional parties to contest the poll.
The newbies may usher in an exhilarating mood of diversity and change. But they can create turmoil and unrest, cutting into votes and bringing in instability, political greed, and illicitness, as the last election in 2017 amply revealed.
For instance, in 2017, the Congress contested 37 seats, got a vote share of 28.35 percent, and won 17 seats. It came second in six seats. Now, the AAP contested 39 seats and ingloriously lost its deposit in 38 seats. But if the AAP votes had gone to the Congress, presumably because they are both anti-BJP, the AAP’s 6.27 percent vote share could have raised the Congress tally to 19 seats.
Take Mormugao, where the difference in votes between the BJP, which won the seat, and the Congress was just 140. The AAP secured 267 votes. In Cortalim, not far away, the BJP won with 5,666 votes over the independent candidate, who polled 5,148 votes, while the Congress polled 4,326. If it had presumably got the AAP’s votes of 2,482, the party would have beaten the BJP with over 1,964 votes.
Not surprisingly, voters, political strategists, community leaders, social influencers, middle-men and do-gooders are looking askance at the number of newbies that have jumped into the fray this election, confounding even the most astute political analysts.
Here’s a look at the significant parties.
Revolutionary Goans Party
There’s a sense of unease and suspicion among social activists and influencers, especially among the Catholics, about the RGP and its real motives and intentions.
The RGP came blazing as recently as 2017, with its catchy and addictive slogan of “Goa for Goans”, alluding to a vision of a truly regional party for Goans. It has sworn to pass the Persons of Goan Origin Bill and make it law, apart from promising jobs for Goans first, where employers will be forced to hire Goans and only then outsiders. The RGP is promising skill training in education from the tourism sector to technical jobs; to protect community land; bulldoze illegal construction; an app for women’s safety; to bring back agriculture to farmlands; and, most importantly, to keep a check on migrant flow from neighbouring states.
The RGP’s founder and its president, Manoj Parab and Viresh Borcar, are seen as the Raj Thackerays of Goa, wearing Goan chauvinism and pride on their sleeves and wielding racy and lively go-getting strategies to win followers. In a surprising outreach strategy, the RGP has wooed Goan NRIs abroad and funds have flowed to allow a flashy campaign – thousands of glossy brochures, lush public meetings, candidates in 38 constituencies with all the trappings, and a vast and colourful social media splash from Insta to Facebook.
The unease comes from several factors. First, it got its election symbol (a football) from the Election Commission in January under dubious circumstances. Its former ally, the Goa Su-Raj Party, has accused both the RGP and EC of betrayal in registering and allotting its symbol to the RGP instead. Critics say the RGP has an ideology similar to the RSS – of exclusivity and chauvinism – which is why it raises suspicions.
Next, allegations flew about the accountability of funds coming from abroad, even as most of the NRI followers of the RGP are Catholic. It’s here that it’s drawing consternation among Catholic influencers, who suspect the RGP is here to divide the Catholic vote because NRI families residing in the state are passionately for the RGP. It’s well known that community leaders hope to consolidate votes in favour of the candidate that has been chosen; however, the RGP seems to be throwing a spanner in the works.
In the crowded constituency of St Cruz, adjoining the heritage holy quarter of Old Goa, there’s utter chaos. The constituency has three dominant villages: Chimbel, Merces and St Cruz. Catholics dominate the village of St Cruz but, according to Catholic influencers, many families are giving the church’s instructions a go-by and are excited by the RGP.
“My brother and his family live in the UK, and they have sent money to RGP because he believes Goa must keep its unique Goykar character intact,” says a 56-year-old housewife who didn’t want to be named.
Ajay Kholkar, the young RGP candidate from St Cruz, is dismissive of the accusation that the RGP has been set up by the RSS to divide the Catholic vote.
“The church says we are RSS funded; the RSS says we are church funded,” says Kholkar, “but we are for Goans only.”
He points to the sprawling slum in St Cruz and says he’s against the rampant encroachment and land grab of communidade land by the politician-builder nexus to accommodate migrants.
“We are not against migrants per se, there are at least 4,800 migrants in Indira Nagar slum. But all political parties are only interested in getting their votes,” he says. “In Chimbel here, it is largely ST settlers over decades. I'm a tribal too but there are no public utilities, from playgrounds, schools, health centres, etc.”
The RGP may create barely a ripple, but it can cut into Catholic votes in swing constituencies in the Salcete belt in the south, which is predominantly Catholic, and in the Tiswadi talukas of St Cruz and St Andre up to Cumbarjua.
In the village of Chimbel in St Cruz, the feisty Ana Gracias and her colleague, the older Vincent Fernandes, stand steadfast behind the TMC despite accusations of the dodgy antecedents of party candidate Victor Gonsalves.
A former Congress MLA, Gonsalves was last elected in 1989. He had been party hopping – from AAP in 2016, Goa Forward Party in 2017, back to Congress in 2020, then to the TMC last month. Gonsalves was also assistant to then Congress MLA Babush Monserate who stood and lost from St Cruz in 2017. According to village lore, GOnsalves was not only beaten by Monserate’s goons for not delivering votes but the car and smartphone given to him by Monserate were also snatched back. Gossip claims Gonsalves has reduced his siblings to penury after mortgaging their family home and defaulting on bank payments.
But Ana Gracias directs her ire against the AAP’s Amit Palekar, who upstaged and nudged her out of a much publicised hunger strike at Old Goa against the illegal construction of a mansion owned by the BJP’s Shaina NC in the heritage zone.
“Palekar may be a lawyer,” Gracias fumes, “but he is a well-known real estate fixer with people like Antonio Fernandes, the BJP’s candidate here, and Rohan Khaunte, the BJP’s candidate in Porvorim. They all have vested interests in the Kadamba belt near here.”
Gracias says the time has come for a new kind of politics. But would the TMC not cut into the anti-BJP vote? She is quick to say people are not stupid to waste their votes.
However, the TMC has invited a lot of derision and jeer for their choice of candidates, especially because of their virtuous declarations of a “new dawn of Goa”. The TMC candidate, Sandeep Vazarkar, was arrested only last week in a cheque bounce case, apart from being arrested by the Mapusa police a month ago in the Serula communidade land grab case. TMC’s Mapusa candidate, a builder named Tarak Arolkar, has been accused of grabbing land and also accused his rivals of kidnapping him a few years ago.
Then there’s the Benaulim candidate, the infamous Churchill Alemao, who has been arrested for bribery scams and smashing legitimately elected governments. There’s also the husband-wife team of Kiran Kandolkar, an established matka king, from Aldona and his wife Kavita Kandolkar from Thivim.
TMC leaders have said the people should blame the Congress if the BJP comes back to power because the Congress did not agree to have an alliance with the TMC. However, if a consolidation of anti-BJP votes does not take place, the TMC will eat into the anti-BJP votes, and it seems it can pop a surprise in Mandrem and Thivim.
Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party
Suffice it to say the MGP, the TMC’s alliance partner, is expected to win five or six seats from the 12 seats it is contesting this time. Opponents of the BJP, like the Congress, hope the MGP’s steady vote share will cut into the BJP’s vote, as it did last time.
In 2017, the MGP and BJP parted ways to contest alone, and the BJP paid a heavy price then. Its vote share was 32.48 percent, it contested 36 seats, and won 13. The MGP got 11.27 percent of the vote share, contested 25 seats, and won three.
If the two parties had come together, their vote share would have shot up to 43.75 per cent and could have won 19 seats. The three seats the BJP could have won – St Cruz, Ponda and Siroda – were lost because the MGP cut into BJP votes.
Will the MGP join the BJP in a post poll scenario if it is needed? MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar has declared that the MGP has “burnt its fingers with the BJP...and will not have an alliance at any cost.”
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