Goa Elections Part 2: A look at the opposition and the probable outcome

In the first part of analysing the Goa elections, we looked at the BJP’s standing in Goa. But BJP’s future cannot be looked at in isolation, without considering its opponents. This part will cover that aspect and by the end of the post, we would get a birds eye view of the current scenario, and also what one can expect in the upcoming elections:

Coming to the opposition, the Congress continues to be the main opposition party. In many ways, the national political scenario mimics what happens in Goa. Before the current BJP Government came to power, Goa was ruled by the Congress Government, which oversaw the biggest scam Goa has ever seen: The mining scam. The CM was more of a compromise candidate, who allowed his ministers to have a free run. BJP’s 2012 campaign was very person centric, focused around Parrikar. The result was BJP getting an absolute majority for the very first time. The Congress was routed and managed to get just 9 MLAs out of 40. This is very much like what happened in 2014 at the centre. But the Congress is in even bigger trouble in Goa.

1 out of the 9 MLAs is officially with the Congress, but he has been openly batting for BJP, has a post in the current Government, and is lining up for a BJP ticket in the upcoming elections. Another MLA has been expelled for 6 years for anti-party activities. His wife, continues to be in Congress, but since her husband, who is the real influencer is out, she may follow suit. That brings down the effective Congress tally to 6. Factor in 2 more Congress MLAs who are rumoured to be moving to BJP’s alliance partner MGP. All-in-all, a dismal scenario.

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One of the major reasons for this downfall of Congress is the severe infighting. There are around half-a-dozen former CMs in the Congress party, who are mostly no longer MLAs, forming the old guard, all of whom would like to revitalise their careers. There is also the younger group, most of whom are MLAs, and are unhappy with the machinations of the old guard.

The public though largely continues to see Congress as a corrupt party which destroyed Goa. Sure, there maybe some who would go back to the Congress having tried BJP last time, but the Congress is overall in pretty bad shape.

Then we have around 5 MLAs who won as independents or as part of a regional party. Micky Pacheco’s Goa Vikas Party (GVP), which fought the last elections with BJP’s support and won 2 seats, has now gone anti-BJP, but Pacheco is having trouble managing his other MLA itself, who may contest with BJP’s support. GVP’s fortunes are on the downfall. 2 more independents have formed another regional party called Goa Forward Party (GFP), with their only ideology being that of occupying the anti-BJP space. The main leader of GFP is an ex-Congressman and is said to still influence the Congress High Command at the centre.

GFP has been hankering for a Mahagathbandhan with Congress and NCP, but Congress has been unyielding to the demands of the likes of GFP. Although they are playing hardball now, one expects, as elections draw closer, at least these 3 parties will have an explicit or implicit alliance. Or else they may all find it very difficult to survive since all of them are vying for broadly the same voter base.

Finally we have AAP which has self-declared itself as the winner of Goa. This was based on a survey done by a little known firm in Goa, which gave AAP 35% of the voteshare, but still managed to show the BJP combine as the single largest entity. The findings of the poll have been disputed as being self-contradictory by many experts, but AAP has cherry-picked the most favourable metric and splashed it all over Goa.

Having said that, AAP is the first party to have gotten into campaign mode, with their door-to-door campaigning. AAP’s stock was sky high a few weeks ago, but has come down considerably after AAP’s implosion at Delhi, and even further after Kejriwal’s comments on surgical strikes. The problem AAP faces is that the people in AAP currently represent an assorted set of individuals with no common ideology. Some come from the background of pro-Marathi lobby, while the party is trying to woo the Christian voters, who will never vote for such people.

This is not to say AAP is completely devoid of leaders. Recently Elvis Gomes, a bureaucrat, quit his Government post to join AAP. Hi enjoys a clean image, and could very well be the CM face. Another tall leader is Dr Oscar Rebello, who has been involved in various civil society movements in the past, although he is unlikely to contest elections. The other leader though are either imports from diverse backgrounds or unknown quantities. AAP’s views on major prickly issues which face Goa are also unknown, the common refrain being “the people will decide”.

The difficulty in analysing AAP is no-one is sure about their real on the ground influence. Their main voter base will obviously be a chunk of the Congress votes, largely Christians, while trying to wean away a portion of the Hindus as well. AAP’s success or failure depends entirely on how many votes can they pull away from the Congress: Will it be a Delhi 2013 repeat where BJP emerged as the largest party as AAP broke into Congress’s votebank? Or will it be a Delhi 2015 scenario where AAP steals almost the entire voter base of Congress leaving the Congress destroyed?

Delhi 2015 will be unlikely because Goa is not Delhi. Goan demographics are skewed with Christians touching almost 85% in some constituencies in the sub-district Salcete, which has 7 constituencies and where on an average Christians make up 54% of the voters. The scene is dramatically opposite in the rest of Goa, where they make up just 26% of the population on an average, falling to 7% in a few seats. Hence even a Delhi 2015 like consolidation of the Christian vote towards AAP will have a bearing only in a few constituencies.

So to sum up: BJP has weakened since 2012, MGP looks to get stronger. Congress is tottering and will need a Mahagathbandan with NCP and GFP to manage to put up a fight. AAP is an unknown quantity. So what will happen? There have been five opinion polls in Goa till now:

The predictions
The predictions

All of them point to the BJP-MGP combine being the leaders. While the numbers are debatable, the fact is this: the opposition to the BJP is utterly fractured. Even if the Mahagathbandhan takes shape, there is the AAP which will eat some of its votes. In fact AAP may eat into the anti-BJP votes and help BJP win a few seats where it came second last time around. But if the voters decisively swerve to AAP, then AAP may wrest these seats.

As of today, certainly BJP has it neck ahead, mainly because of the There-Is-No-Alternative (TINA) factor. Even in other states we have seen that BJP has performed well against Congress but stutters against a strong regional force. The regional parties in Goa have influence in just 3-4 constituencies hence are not a force to reckon with. Only AAP could prove to be a challenger, but for that they need to ensure the utter demolition of the Congress, and to gain any critical mass, they have to spread their influence beyond the Christian belt, which seems unlikely.

While Goa will lose out in national coverage thanks to Uttar Pradesh and the other northern state elections, the temperatures are surely going to soar here.

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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