Goa assembly polls have usually been a low-key affair with the campaign coverage historically been confined to local newspapers and TV channels. That’s largely because the fight in the past was all about local issues and local politicians.
However, this year’s assembly elections have gained unprecedented coverage both on social and traditional national media with the topic often dominating the conversation on microblogging site, Twitter.
The state, that goes to poll on 4 February, will have a multi-cornered fight with Congress, BJP, Goa Forward, Aam Aadmi Party, Shiv Sena and Goa Suraksha Manch led by RSS man Subhash Velinkar, who parted ways with the BJP to form his own party among others in the fray.
Having travelled across the state and spoken to hundreds of potential voters, it’s clear that no single party is likely to gain majority in the 40-seat assembly.
Anger against BJP
While Goa may be incredibly tough to call this time around, what’s not difficult to gauge is the palpable anger against the BJP in general and Manohar Parrikar in particular even amongst the saffron party’s core voters.
Many voters, who I spoke to referred to Parrikar in a disparaging tone with some even calling him a ‘liar’ for his inability to fulfill election promises before leaving Goa to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet.
Prabhakar Timble, the president of Goa Forward Party, said, “People (in Goa) feel that Manohar Parrikar has cheated them, not by going to Delhi but because of his gimmicks, that stand exposed. That he is a totally U-turn man.”
Parrikar’s successor, Laxmikant Parsekar, has earned the reputation of a weak leader. The public insult meted out to him by Modi during a function in November last year only contributed in damaging his image further.
Realising the public anger due to unfulfilled promises, the BJP this year has not projected a chief ministerial candidate. The decision has understandably caused considerable heartburn among Parsekar’s loyalists leading to internal ramblings in the saffron party. The internal disquiet within the BJP is visible for its lacklustre election campaign in the coastal state.
A tour around the state capital Panaji, which has been a stronghold for Parrikar for several years, bears no sign of election activity. I could not spot a single BJP poster anywhere in Panaji, let alone being witness to road shows or door-to-door campaigns by its leaders. This, even according to my local driver, was unprecedented.
In the run up to the election, the BJP also suffered several setbacks from its own traditional partners with RSS’s Subhash Velinkar falling out with the party spectacularly and forming his own independent party. His Goa Suraksha Manch has already formed a ‘grand-alliance’ with Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Gomantak Party. The alliance is set to make a severe dent into the traditional BJP vote-bank. Anti-incumbency coupled with significant division in pro-BJP votes may spell disaster for the ruling party.
BJP is facing challenge not just for its own erstwhile allies, but its opponents too are actively campaigning to woo voters to vote intelligently in a bid to defeat BJP candidates.
Congress and Goa Forward had almost clinched an alliance but the differences over seat sharing meant that both parties are now contesting against each other. Many feel that the Congress-Goa Forward combine were capable of ensuring BJP’s rout from Goa.
A visibly distressed Digambar Kamat, who governed the state as chief minister between 2007 and 2012, told me that he always felt that it was the responsibility of the Congress party to unite all anti-BJP forces to defeat BJP in the state.
“Unfortunately, this does not remain in the hands of local leaders, leadership in Delhi is also part of it. Then what went wrong in holding negotiations, I don’t know. But in Margao municipal elections, we (myself and Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai) came together to keep BJP at bay and we swept the municipal council. He (Vijai) won 11 out of 11 in his constituency and I won 7 out of 10 in my constituency,” Kamat told me at his Margao residence in south Goa.
Sardesai, who won as an independent candidate from Fatorda constituency in 2012 and is now the face of Goa Forward, said that even though the alliance with the Congress did not come to fruition, his party has decided to field candidates only in constituencies where the latter had no chances of winning.
If Shiv Sena and Goa Suraksha Manch are capable of spoiling the party for BJP, the saffron party may draw some solace from potential division of non-BJP votes. This is because of the entry of Aam Aadmi Party, which has fielded candidates in all 40 seats.
Senior Congress leader and party’s general secretary in-charge of Goa, Digvijay Singh, said that AAP coming to Goa had only proved his long-held belief that Kejriwal’s party was ‘working to help the BJP.’
He told me over the phone, “I’ve long held the view that AAP is the B-team of the RSS. The party coming to Goa despite full knowledge that they will only eat into our vote share has further vindicated my stand.”
AAP, which kickstarted its campaign almost a year ago, is attempting to portray itself as a credible alternative to both Congress and the BJP- two parties who have pretty much always governed the state. The party is actively selling its achievements in Delhi to woo Goan voters with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal periodically visiting the state to address series of election rallies.
The party has also transformed the way election canvassing is usually done in Goa, a state known for its laid back or ‘susegad’ attitude. AAP has made a splash with its guerrilla-style campaigning.
Anybody, who has lived in Goa knows that Goans are incredibly chilled out people. The state’s population is known for their siesta breaks, when private and government offices shut for people to take their ‘mandatory’ afternoon naps.
Last Sunday, I decided to go for a stroll at around 7 in the morning. The road was traffic-free and there was no sign of any human activity other than the movements of couple of milk vans. Few politicians, who I had sought appointments from the previous day had politely asked me not to bother them until at least 9 in the morning.
I had barely walked for few hundred meters when I spotted two individuals (see below) spotting AAP caps and standing outside a local church. The man, identified as Abbas, had travelled from Mumbai while the woman, who identified herself as Rajni, had come from Nagpur.
Both told me that they had come to play their role in ensuring the victory for ‘honest politics of Arvind Kejriwal.’ The same night, Kejriwal addressed an unusually large gathering of few thousand people in an otherwise Congress bastion.
Amay Ghode, a first generation entrepreneur, told me that while he had never been a fan of Kejriwal’s politics, his volunteers’ style of campaigning had left even him awestruck.
He said, “It’s unthinkable to see a traditional Goan party to take the trouble of wooing voters at 7 AM on a Sunday morning. AAP has clearly revolutionised the way campaigning is done in elections. If commitment and dedication win you an election then AAP is already a winner.”
Who stands where? My assessment!
Amay’s tribute for AAP aside, I must confess that I find it impossible to call Goa in any one party’s favour. People refuse to reveal their cards but hung assembly is what appears to be the common verdict by most voters.
There’s a real fear among non-BJP parties that the ruling party may resort to EVM tampering post elections given that there’s a long gap between the polling (4 February) and the counting, which is on 11 March.
My sense is that there will be a hung assembly with no clear mandate for any single party. As for AAP, its volunteers have clearly caused plenty of buzz, but I don’t see much of that converting into votes even though the party is capable of winning few seats.
The BJP had returned to power highlighting the corruption under the previous Congress government. The party has failed to make any progress in any of the corruption charges levelled against Kamat in the last five years. Demonetisation is not a huge election issue here but the closure of mines has compounded the unemployment problem in the state.