'Development' savvy AAP finally bites caste bullet in poll-bound Goa

Religion and caste, the Union Minister of State said, should never be allowed to overtly influence politics
Last Updated 14 November 2021, 05:20 IST

After engineering a freebie frenzy in Goa by promising free electricity, unemployment doles and a job in every home, the AAP's latest promise to field a chief ministerial candidate from the populous and electorally crucial Bhandari samaj with a Catholic as his deputy, has once again triggered political slugfest in the poll-bound Goa.

The announcement made by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has not just caught the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in a bind but has also brought to fore the otherwise understated, but omnipresent caste-oriented politics which has dominated Goa since the state's liberation 60 years ago.

"During this time (since Liberation) there have been chief ministers from various samaj(s) -- Brahmin, Maratha Gomantak samaj, Catholics. But from the Bhandari samaj there was only one chief minister, Ravi Naik for two and a half years... You are aware that the majority of people are from the bahujan samaj and among the OBCs the bhandaris are a majority," Sisodia said on Thursday while explaining the rationale behind the party's decision.

Until Thursday's controversial announcement, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had focussed on replicating the 'Delhi model of governance', while announcing a slew of freebies to Goans voters.

The Bhandari samaj accounts for more than 33 to 35 per cent of the state's population and it is not rare for political parties to woo members of the community ahead of elections.

However, barring Ravi Naik, who held the post of Chief Minister in two truncated tenures -- January 25, 1991, to May 18, 1993, and April 2, 1994, to April 8, 1994 -- no other member of the community has held the top post.

Union Minister of State for Tourism Shripad Naik, one of the tallest Bhandari leaders in Goa, claims that directly rolling in the caste factor in electoral politics was not the right way to go, but also added that every party had the right to chart their own course.

"Everyone does such things, make statements, to take their party forward. Such things start ahead of elections. Whether they will really do it or not is something which should be seen later," Naik said.

When asked if he was against a member of the Bhandari samaj occupying the top political slot, Naik said: "It is not that I am not for it. Let them elect MLAs first. They do not have a single MLA yet, and they are speaking about appointing a chief minister. I am not saying their opinion is incorrect. Every party has a right to express their opinion".

Religion and caste, the Union Minister of State said, should never be allowed to overtly influence politics.

"When you go to a temple, you leave your footwear outside, however expensive it is. Never... We should consider these issues as citizens," Naik said.

The AAP poll announcement has also caught the Congress on the backfoot, with its state president Girish Chodankar, who himself belongs to the Bhandari samaj, claiming that the announcement by Sisodia is a result of frustration stemming from the party's not being able to make a sizeable dent in Goa politics.

"When a party puts caste and religion at the front of their politics, it only brings to the fore their frustration," Chodankar said.

The state Congress president also said that by the same standards, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should resign from the post and allow a member of the largest community in Delhi to occupy the post.

"If you want to appoint a Bhandari samaj CM, which is the largest community in Delhi? I think AAP has not studied this. They have not even understood that the implication of their lies in Goa, will impact Delhi too. Kejriwal is not from Delhi. He is from Haryana. Therefore, Kejriwal should resign and someone from Delhi should be made CM," Chodankar said.

"The largest community in Delhi, Punjabis are the largest in Delhi, one of them should be made CM and then apply the same principle in Goa," Chodankar said.

Goa is headed for state Assembly polls in early 2022.

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(Published 14 November 2021, 05:20 IST)

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