January 24, 2020
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A Beachhead, but the Hinterland is Another Battle

The victory in Goa is a shot in the arm for the BJP but to replicate it elsewhere may not be easy

A Beachhead, but the Hinterland is Another Battle
A Beachhead, but the Hinterland is Another Battle
"Who are these people accusing us? India was secular even when the Muslims hadn't come here and the Christians hadn't set foot on this soil."
—Atal Behari Vajpayee in Goa, April 12

Given its small size and a fractured electoral verdict, the BJP's rejoicing over forming a government in Goa may seem a trifle out of proportion. But the party is looking at Goa as a big neon sign pointing the way to victory in the Gujarat assembly poll later this year, followed by a slew of state elections next year.

That the Centre took Goa seriously was clear from the fact that Union minister Pramod Mahajan took personal charge, running a highly scientific operation. Each constituency was profiled in detail and while the cash spent wasn't much by Delhi standards, a lot of human effort went into micro-level strategising.

The Sangh parivar tends to believe the election saw a polarisation of votes as a result of a strident, Gujarat-oriented Congress campaign. Says BJP MP Vinay Katiyar, "The PM's speech during the party's national executive in Goa in April had a big impact." By repeatedly screening video footage of the PM's speech, the Opposition scared off minorities but united Hindus.

One of the party's election managers admits the Congress campaign cost the BJP the 32 per cent minority vote. "Or else, we would have got 23 seats instead of 17," he says. The polarisation wasn't surprising given the parivar's growing strength in Goa, says a senior RSS pracharak. The number of shakhas has gone up from 65 to 90 in 10 years. The ABVP has a hold over 41 academic institutions and the RSS runs 15 of its own. Some 16 parivar-affiliated organisations, particularly the VHP and Vishwa Bharati, are active there.

"Of course there is a Hindu backlash," declares the VHP's Acharya Giriraj Kishore. "The Congress' pseudo-secularism had its impact. No political party should ignore Hindus." BJP leaders aren't certain yet if the Goa pattern will apply elsewhere but agree the party's gained ground after signalling a return to Hindutva basics.

Party president Jana Krishnamurthy feels the tide may have turned. "You'll see by the assembly polls next year, the party set-up will be in good shape." But he disagrees that the minorities have rejected the BJP in Goa. "That's what the Congress would like to say. They ran their campaign along communal lines but are still called a secular party."

If nothing else, the Goa success has improved the morale of party workers by breaking what seemed like an endless losing streak. Party sources say the BJP would exploit Parrikar's impeccable image by asking him to tour several states and address workers there.

The BJP expects an easy win in Gujarat, both because the Congress is weak and because of polarisation. But it is feared the BJP might be losing this edge and pressure is building up for early elections, fuelling speculation that the assembly may be dissolved sooner than later.
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