Hung House sets stage for number games

Hung House sets stage for number games

For a change, a lot of voters in the district-sized coastal state of Goa would surely have got a perverse thrill from watching politicians coping with Saturday’s Assembly election finale. It was a nail-biting finish with a mix of uncertainty, nervousness, and even humiliation.

The Congress actually did slightly better than the BJP, but both failed to get
a majority in the 40-member House. In the former’s case, that was because voters seemed to have forgotten the sins and corruption of its pre-2012 regime.

Figures coming in late evening gave a hint of the whisker-thin margins of
many winning candidates, some even in three digits. Top BJP leaders tumbled
like ninepins, including Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar. So did his ministers for tourism, art and culture, forest and environment, among other party leaders.

After ruling Goa through rebel Congressmen in 1999, and then directly from 2000-2004 and a full 2012-2017 term, the BJP paid the price for a number of unpopular decisions in its last tenure. The party government’s record on mining, casinos, medium of instruction in primary schools and environment, was nothing to write home about. At one stage, then BJP leader Wilfred Mesquita accused his own party government here of corruption.

Just before the elections, the local RSS leadership broke off from the BJP over a hardline policy on education (virtually blo­cking English at the primary level) which its leader Subhash Velingkar and others, wanted the government to implement.

Some sought to blame the RSS alone for the BJP’s fate. But this explanation does not suffice; the Congress was itself contesting with other players who cut into its vote bank, including the AAP, Goa Forward (a regional party who some insinuate is close to an influential mining house), the Nationalist Congress Party, and independents.

More than the RSS’ temporary departure (the rebel faction is back with a ‘ghar wapsi’ in the past week), the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) broke off from the BJP weeks before the elections in January. The MGP was Goa’s first ruling party (December 1963-April 1979), which later pushed for a pro-Maharashtra policy which, at one stage, included Goa’s merger with its neighbour.

It still packages itself as a subaltern Hindu party of the ‘bahujan samaj’ (common masses). Efforts to build an MGP-BJP alliance, which the late Pramod Mahajan painstakingly wielded together in 1994, came unstuck, affecting the ruling party.

Politics in Goa tends to be identity-based, conservative and at the same time, populist. The BJP spent thousands of crores of rupees as doles and subsidies on all kinds of schemes — higher secondary students getting laptops, marriageable women getting Rs 1 lakh official dowry of sorts, and more.

But it also remains a legacy of the 1960s, divide-and-rule religion-and-caste based voting patterns, though national parties have largely replaced the MGP-UGP (United Goans Party) days of five decades ago.

The BJP and the Congress have become the main contestants for power here, since the early 1980s in the latter’s case and the late 1990s for the former. Past elections saw the BJP-Congress at 17-16 in 2002, 14-16 in 2007, 21-09 in 2012.

What next?

If past experience is anything to go by, crafting and demolishing majorities in the 40-seat assembly is an easy, and not-too-costly, job. Much depends on the decision the Goa governor, former BJP leader Mridula Sinha, takes. BJP president Amit Shah has already announced that his party would bid for power. Just before the elections, the BJP lured legislators, one each from the Congress and the MGP — Godinho and Madkaikar. Both won seats and added to the BJP’s tally on the weekend.

But the unpleasant news for the people of Goa is that the state could well return
to its bad old days of incessant political inst­ability in the 1990s. Few governments have survived long in Goa when their ruling party was not the same as that in New Delhi.

Creating a majority, toppling it, breaking parties, and buying over legislators (an open secret here) has been the done thing when either there was no clear majority, or the party in Delhi was not in favour of the local political arithmetic.

In times of instability, concern was voiced over that trend. Ironically enough, political gazers taking to the idiot-box today were praising how bouts of instability can actually reduce ‘political arrogance.’ But beyond the politics of power, the growing feeling in Goa is that governance is not working adequately, is not responsive to the citizen, and beyond the hype doesn’t take a region, otherwise filled with potential, to where it should go.

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Goa)