Ruling BJP faces stiff challenge from Cong, AAP in Goa

Goa, which goes to poll today is not new to the debates and movements pertaining to its identity as the state completes more than five and a half decades as part of the Indian Union.

While there has always been the yearning to maintain its unique identity, first through the historic opinion poll conducted in 1967 that saw Goa’s emergence as a separate Union Territory rather than see a merger with Maharashtra and later becoming a full fledged state in 1987 with Konkani as the state language, 2017 is going to see electoral battle of a different kind.

While protection of Goan identity is a universal refrain across the political spectrum, each contestant has his own perception and orientation on how the identity is to be defined and what has he to offer on the plank.

The ruling BJP, being steered very aggressively by former chief minister and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is fancying its chances on the plank of development and social security. These BJP thinks it has ushered in with Goa seeing some big ticket projects being approved including the upcoming Greenfield airport at Mopa, the Defence Expo and the BRICS Summit held last year, upgradation of inland waterways and ports and widening of road networks. A number of social security schemes such as ‘Ladli Lakshmi’ for girl child, Deendayal Health Scheme for medical insurance are cited by BJP leaders to cite their pro-poor credentials.

But the party also has faced challenges from different quarters, first, by its own former ally the Maharshtrawadi Gomantakwadi Party (MGP) which broke ranks this time on the issue of disagreement over the education policy. The MGP has sided with Shiv Sena and Goa Suraksha Manch, an RSS breakaway faction which opposes BJP extending grants to schools imparting education in English medium.

The other apparent distancing – an important one at that – has been of the Catholic community in Goa, which had supported the Parrikar-led BJP in 2012. Now, the Church feels let down on a host of issues such as Mopa, special status for Goa and ambiguity on the regional plan. To make the matters clear, the Church, in its customary address this year, asked its followers to shun the forces of communalism and corruption and criticised the government for being anti-poor and ecologically insensitive.

No wonder therefore, the BJP is projecting its return by appealing to its core constituents with top leaders indicating that Parrikar could be sent back as CM if people wished so. Though the party is still putting up a brave face, citing the three poll surveys that give it the highest numbers, insiders acknowledge that the walk may not be smooth. Interestingly, “demonetisation and nationalism” are not among the buzz words used by the party in Goa.

The Congress, on its part, took its own time to get into the groove, first by trying to resolve the issues between the old guard and the new aspirants, then often reconciling the contradictions within the central observers and the state party leadership over the issue of electoral allies.

People still see the previous Congress regime as being ineffective in controlling corruption within its own ranks and susceptible to competing power centres within. With Luizhino Faleiro at the helm, the state leadership is claiming to represent a combination which is proportionally represented with women, tribals and young leaders trying to break from the previous mould.

The party’s inability to stitch a last minute alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar, however, has forced it to have an understanding in some seats with political upstarts like Goa Forward and United Goans Party as their support may not be taken for granted in a close post poll scenario. The third potent front is being projected by the Aam Admi Party (AAP) under the leadership of Elvis Gomes, a former bureaucrat and the only ‘declared’ chief ministerial candidate from any party. The AAP, which started its campaign more than a year ago, but somewhere lost steam in between, appears to have covered a lot of ground with its visible campaign both at the grass roots and the social media.

‘Corruption-free’ Goa

The party is equally critical of the BJP as well as the Congress and promises the Goans a corruption-free and clean Goa true to its original ethos. The candidates put up by the party come from different backgrounds – they are professionals, tribals, teachers, activists, housewives etc – and reflect the diversity and demography of the place.

However, being upstarts in the electoral arena, they would still need to prove their outreach and capability if Goa has to come anywhere closer if not repeat the Delhi miracle of 2014 (AAP then won 67 out of 70 seats). The optimism of AAP can be seen from the fact that they are the only party fielding all the 40 candidates of their own.

Poll projections notwithstanding, the general perception is that these polls are going to be the most unpredictable ever, with too many actors and too small margins likely.

As the ‘V’ day approaches, the electoral authorities in the state are gearing up to conduct the 2017 polls with a lot of firsts to their credit, often leading to perceptions of an over enthusiastic chief electoral officer’s office with the introduction of ‘pink booths’ manned by ladies-only staff and security officials. Pink teddy bears will be gifted to the first time women voters - criticised by some women activists for CEO’s overt symbolism!

The authorities have also introduced the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail which enables the voter to verify the correct person he has voted to pre-empt criticism of faulty EVMs. The ordinary Goan would however be more concerned with basic issues of livelihood, health, cleanliness and protection of their Goanness as they head for the polling booth on the day of deliverance.

(The writer teaches political science in Goa University)

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