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Goa Elections Part 1: Analysing BJP’s prospects

If you happen to visit Goa, and if you do not see a single poster saying “AAP winning Goa”, then your lifetime’s supply of beer is on me. Jokes and jokers apart, which way will Goa swing in the upcoming elections? A detailed analysis will hopefully give us a picture of the ground reality as it stands.

Lets start with the BJP, which is in power with it’s pre-poll alliance partner of 2012 Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). BJP has 21 MLAs giving it the absolute majority in a house of 40, while the MGP has 3 MLAs.

The biggest news surrounding Goa BJP is that Goa is the first state where the RSS split ranks with BJP. The fact though is that only a section of the RSS split and has formed a party called Goa Surakhsa Manch (GSM), with only one stated objective of “protecting Indian languages namely Marathi and Konkani” and in the process hurting BJP as much as possible.

This rebellion itself is a mystery. Publicly the story is this: The erstwhile Congress regime gave Government grants to schools which had English as the Medium of Instruction (MOI), which led to a large number of schools switching over to English. This got the goat of the RSS and Indian language lovers, and they led an agitation back then, called the “Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch” (BBSM). This was backed by Parrikar, the then opposition leader, who promised to scrap this rule if he came to power.

He did come back to power, but instead of scrapping the rule, the BJP Government chose to “freeze” the situation, not allowing any more English medium schools to get grants. The rationale was that any U-Turn would be playing with the future of thousands of children if the policy was altered within just 2-3 years. While BBSM was not fully happy, they remained silent. In fact, the leader of GSM and former RSS chief Subhash Velingkar, who led the revolt, even defended the Government’s position back then. Then what changed in 2015 which lead to an acrimonious split in 2016?

Late 2014, Parrikar moved to the centre as India’s Defence Minister, thereby leaving his bastion Panaji open. Velingkar had hoped that his yes-man from within the RSS would be chosen as the BJP candidate for the by-elections. But BJP selected Parrikar’s protege, Siddharth Kunkolienkar a young engineer and Parrikar’s right hand man as the candidate. The snub, that too in favour of someone roughly half his age was too much for Velingkar’s ego to bear. And from then on the relations began souring, which have finally led to the current scenario. The bitter verbal fight in the open, with Velingkar firing personal barbs at Parrikar are further testament to the fact that this man’s ego has been hurt, and his “principled” pro-Indian languages stand, is a mere facade.

Cutting to the chase, the GSM may eat up a small portion of the BJP’s votes, but it is expected that the proportion would not be significant enough to damage BJP in most of the seats. One also cannot rule out any overt or covert patch-up between the two by the time the elections take place.

The BJP on its part adopted an interesting strategy on this MOI issue. It would have been very easy for them to fulfil their pre-election promise of scrapping the Congress’s policy. They would have appeased their support base, but instead they chose to take the more appropriate stance, given the situation. This stance is also in favour of the Christian population in Goa, who have supported the Congress’s move. One of the reasons for BJP alone getting an absolute majority in 2012 was the backing from the Church and the Christians, and this would seem to be BJP’s way of repaying their faith.

But things couldn’t have gone worse for BJP. The script clearly was to repose the faith of the Christian community which elected an unprecedented 6 Christian BJP MLAs in 2012: A Christian was made the deputy CM in 2012 bypassing current CM Parsekar; The pro-Christian MOI policy; Hosting of events such as the Portuguese version of the Commonwealth Games for Portuguese colonies; and many more such pro-Christian decisions. But today, BJP would be lucky to have even 5% of the Christian population backing them.

The reason is between 2012 and 2017, came a 16 May 2014. Then Goa CM Parrikar, was one of the first BJP leaders to openly back Modi for PM. Ever since, it has been a downfall for BJP’s popularity amongst the Christians. Modi’s demonisation by the media since 2002 is such that the minorities just cannot reconcile to him being the PM, and their wrath is incurred upon anyone seemingly close to Modi, in this case Parrikar and by association, BJP Goa. The intolerance drama and churches under attack false narrative only added to their apprehensions. Hence, come 2017, BJP may as well say goodbye to the Christian vote.

As far as Governance is concerned, BJP has done fairly well. Infrastructure has gotten a major boost with bridges and roads being in the focus. Many of the pre-poll promises such as VAT cut on petrol, Mediclaim scheme, doles to housewives and adult girls, were fulfilled. BJP came riding on the anti-Mining-scam sentiment and as soon as he assumed power, Parrikar banned mining for 6 months, in order to clean up the mess. But the 6 months got extended to almost 3 years as activists stepped in and the Supreme Court extended the ban. During this period, Goa’s economy slumped like never before, and it is to Parrikar’s credit that even in those tough times, the state’s developmental works and schemes functioned smoothly.

The resentment among people towards BJP can be mainly attributed to 2 issues: the culprits of the above mentioned Mining scam are yet to be brought to book and the off-shore Casinos which Congress had brought into river Mandovi, are still there, although BJP had promised to get rid of them. The mining scam is being investigated by the Lokayukta hence the delay, and the Casinos have now become a revenue source for the Government, which cant be axed overnight, but such reasons may not be palatable to the voters. Hence BJP may be hampered by these issues at least marginally in the upcoming elections. Also, a certain amount of anti-incumbency is bound to set in.

Another major drawback for BJP is naturally the loss of Parrikar to the centre. All said and done, he was a cut above all other politicians in Goa. The current CM Parsekar though competent, lacks the appeal and charisma which Parrikar had, which eventually landed him the 21 MLAs in 2012. Sadly for Parsekar, he is also saddled with the baggage of not having a very dashing personality, which often makes him an object of unfair ridicule. With his able performance, he has changed people’s perception about him to an extent, but he can never hope to reach heights of Parrikar’s popularity anytime soon.

BJP’s alliance partner MGP has a very dubious distinction: By the end of this term, the party will have been in power for over 10 years at a stretch in Goa. Till 2012 it was in alliance with the Congress and then once Congress lost, with the BJP. The party thus has established itself as a free-floater in Goan politics with no ideological problems with BJP or Congress. It is basically a fiefdom of the Dhavlikar brothers duo, but of late it has become the vehicle of choice for many MLAs aspiring to be in power. Congress and Independent MLAs who would have problems joining the BJP are eyeing MGP tickets.

The MGP which won a mere 3 seats out of 40 in the last elections, now dreams of winning 8-9 seats, making the party the “king-maker” of Goa. In fact, the party’s leader has even gone on record saying he could be the next CM. The party’s relationship with the BJP is slightly strained as of now, since MGP is looking to expand at the cost of BJP in some seats. BJP has been firm on continuing its alliance with the MGP. Although MGP is playing hard to get right now, one expects BJP and MGP to patch up as elections come closer.

The major reason for this would be to avoid a split of the Hindu votes, which both BJP and MGP need. There is already the GSM which will take a small portion of these Hindu votes, and if BJP and MGP split, then it would be catastrophic for both the parties.

Speaking in terms of general sentiment or “wave”, by and large, the majority Hindu population cant be said to be under any sort of wave, either pro-BJP or anti-BJP. Things are quite different among the minorities though and there is a strong anti-BJP wave among them, unlike in 2012 when a substantial chunk went with BJP.

The 2012 Goa election results were quite similar to the performance BJP managed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And the situation BJP Goa is in the upcoming 2017 elections, might as well be what BJP may face nationally in 2019: Many core demands unfulfilled, Congress scamsters roaming free, but a decent development track record. In such a case, its important to see the strength of the opposition, which we will look at in the second part of this analysis.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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