Around 3 months ago, we had published a two part (here and here) curtain raiser on the mood of Goa, as it goes into assembly elections along with heavyweight states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. We had looked at the BJP, Congress, AAP and other regional players to ascertain who had an upper hand. At that point in time, many things were in a state of flux, and as the we go into the final lap, most of those uncertainties have firmed up, and a clearer picture has emerged.
Talking about the BJP as a party, compared to 2012 (last assembly elections) it is certainly depleted. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had officially led the party in 2012. Now, leaders have begun alluding to his return, because the Goa BJP has failed to throw up any face which can step into Parrikar’s humongous shoes.
In 2012, the RSS cadre was firmly behind BJP, but now, a faction has split from the BJP, and is contesting under the banner of Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM). In 2012, BJP had allied with MGP, a regional far-right party, ensuring Hindu votes do not get split. Now, the party has parted ways from the BJP and has instead allied with the aforementioned GSM. In 2012, the Church had decreed that the faithful should vote out the “corrupt”, alluding to Congress, thus giving a fillip to BJP. Now, the Church has pretty clearly sounded the bugle against the BJP.
But all is not going south for BJP. It has roped in a few Congress MLAs and candidates based on the “winnability” factor rather than ideological reasons. The GSM may not have the strength to really damage the BJP since their single point focus is on the Medium of Instruction (MOI), which doesn’t seem to be a major issue among the public. While in 2012 there was a strong anti-Congress anti-incumbency wave across all sections of the society, the 2017 elections seem largely devoid of any discernible wave. Among the minorities, there surely maybe an anti-BJP wave, especially when you consider that some of them had supported the BJP in 2012, but among the Hindus there is no clear wave, neither for, nor against the BJP.
The BJP government in the state can be credited with significant infrastructure works undertaken in the last 5 years, along with a slew of social welfare schemes targeting all needy sections of the society. The tricky issues that the BJP Government hasn’t addressed well are: the removal of Casinos from the Mandovi river, the MOI issue (among a core vote bank), failing to completely weed out corruption (although there have been no major scams), failing to take to task the Mining scam accused (primarily from the Congress).
The BJP’s main opposition Congress too has had a similar fate over the last few years. Today, many smaller regional parties and leaders who claim to be an alternative to BJP and the Congress, are actually one time members of the Congress. The state Congress has essentially disintegrated into regional parties like GFP, UGP, GSRP, GVP and some Congress loyalists have even jumped ship to NCP. As stated above, some have even defected to the BJP. It was widely expected that if not all of the above, Congress and most of the above “secular forces” would cobble up a “Mahagathbandhan” to take on the BJP. But the treachery of Congress has ensured that in at least 37 out of the 40 seats, the various versions of Congress would be battling each other, besides the BJP, MGP-GSM combine and AAP.
The Congress still hasn’t been able to shake off its image of being a party that aides and abets corruption. The recent fiasco of “seat sharing” between Congress and GFP, which ended up in Congress almost cheating GFP, hasn’t done any favours to its image. Congress also has multiple old-timers who have been CMs in the past, raising doubts as to their capability to provide a stable Government. The Congress is still remembered for giving Goa ten Chief Ministers over a period of 12 years in the 1990s. The regional parties have holds over certain pockets but are in no position to offer any pan Goa alternative. In short, no one expects the Congress to cross the magic figure of 21 on its own, and even with its estranged children, reaching there maybe a stretch.
The MGP is led by 2 brothers, making it essentially a fiefdom of their family, with one of the brother harbouring hopes of becoming the chief minister, in spite of having just 3 MLAs as of now. MGP had been a coalition partner with the Congress from 2007 to 2012, and then a coalition partner with the BJP from 2012 to 2017, thus enjoying 10 continuous years in power. Hence, their last minute unconvincing split from the BJP has ended up portraying them in negative light. The RSS faction of GSM, claims to be ideologically opposed to the BJP due to the MOI issue, but the real reason may actually be a bitter ego clash. Together, the two will certainly eat into BJP’s 2012 vote share, but their influence again is not pan Goa.
The AAP is the last player in this multi-cornered fight. AAP can claim to have run the longest and probably the most systematic campaign in the state. But the fact is they may have peaked too soon, and in spite of all the banners splashed around, they don’t seem to have converted their campaign into votes or supporters. The AAP can be held guilty of choosing some rather weak candidates, and also not being able to convince voters that they are a real alternative, as opposed to a vote-cutter party. AAP is mainly looking to cash in on the anti-BJP sentiment among minorities but if they do not pull away a critical mass, then they may end up helping BJP in some seats.
To sum up: the BJP is not in great shape, having lost some of its votes from the far-right as well as the “secular” brigade. The lost far-right votes to MGP-GSM combine may not translate into too many electoral debacles since they aren’t a pan Goa force. The Congress is also weak, hence not in a position to absorb fully the “secular” votes moving away from the BJP. These votes would probably be shared by Congress, its numerous estranged children and AAP. In some places, this split may ensure the BJP doesn’t lose, and may even help BJP win some extra seats.
This arithmetic of course goes for a toss if there is “tactical voting”, where in the anti-BJP voters decide to unite behind the force which is most likely to defeat BJP in every constituency. This would largely depend on how the Church plays its card. Till now, although it has fired shots at the BJP, it has stopped short of hinting at which alternative the faithful should consider. This sort of guidance though is restricted to the last few days before the elections, and is usually delivered at sermons, and not publicly.
In the event that the anti-BJP votes split (as they stand today), BJP will be within sniffing distance of 21 (its current tally, which is also the magic figure), or even cross it if some of the results go their way. Most opinion polls of late seem to have factored this arithmetic, and hence have given BJP a seemingly clear edge, paving the way for it to come back to power.
Even if the anti-BJP votes gravitate to the force most capable of defeating BJP in each constituency, no party seems to be in a position to come near 21 seats and it would be tough fight between the Congress and BJP to be the single largest party.