A Goan Spread
- The state will witness a jamboree of established political parties and some new ones in the fray. Among the established parties are Congress, BJP, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (which had been in power till 1979), Goa Forward, Shiv Sena and NCP. The new ones include Aam Admi Party and Goa Suraksha Manch (led by rebel Goa RSS leader Subhash Velingkar).
While Arvind Kejriwal may be shaking things up in Punjab’s political landscape with his aggressive campaign, his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been quietly but resolutely making inroads into the coastal state of Goa too. Having announced candidates for 30 seats in the 40-seat assembly, it seems to have got a head-start over the other parties, including the incumbent BJP, which are still trying to put their house in order. The election is likely to be held early next year, though dates have not been announced so far. Contesting elections in the state for the first time, AAP is making sure their banners and posters are visible all over. The campaign in full swing, the party is making its presence felt on social media as well as by holding meetings and protest marches.
AAP is banking on its “newness” factor since the voters have already tried and tested the other established political parties. It sees the BJP as the main rival as the Congress is in tatters in the state. Also, the party thinks it can cash in on the strong anti-incumbency mood that seems to be brewing. Goans had voted for Manohar Parrikar, currently Union defence minister, as their chief minister in 2012, but midway in November 2014 they got Laxmikant Parsekar, a former RSS pracharak. Adding to the BJP’s problems is open rebellion against the Parsekar government by former RSS state chief Subhash Velingkar, who has floated a new party, the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM).
AAP is also reaching out to the voters on issues such as the anti-casino plank, the controversial question of which language—Konkani, Marathi or English—should be the medium of teaching in schools, and the changing demographic profile of the state. Like ‘Marathi Manus’ in Maharashtra, ‘Goankarpon’ is an emotive issue in Goa. The demand for special status for the state is growing stronger and Goans want a state law that protects not only the local culture, but also the environment. Their grouse is that the large-scale development happening in the state is at the cost of the environment. Moreover, a large section of voters feel that neither the Congress nor the BJP did anything to protect the Goan identity. AAP sees a big window of opportunity in this disillusionment with the two big parties.
AAP activists are distributing forms to voters, seeking feedback on whether Goa’s famed casino culture should continue. Parrikar, as leader of the Opposition, had earlier protested against the presence of casinos and demanded their closure. When he became chief minister, he assured that licences of the existing casinos would not be renewed and the government would come up with a draft bill, which would include regulations and provide for a regulator. Sources in the BJP say the bill might get notified in April 2017.
Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar of the BJP
“The BJP’s Goa leadership was of the view that almost all of Goa wants casinos to be closed for good and promised to do it after coming to power,” says AAP leader Ashish Talwar, chief strategist for Goa campaign. “Now, it has conveniently reneged on its promise. The BJP is rattled by our campaign.” But BJP national spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao counters: “If AAP is so much against casinos, why are they opening liquor shops in Delhi? On what moral ground do they criticise the Goa government?” Rao tells Outlook that the party will look into the casino and environment issues in depth and articulate it in their vision document. Moreover, with the 14th Finance Commission, the idea of special status has been done away with in the Centre-state relations. Even Andhra Pradesh was not granted special status. “The Centre has given maximum assistance to Goa for various schemes and projects like infrastructure development and so on,” he points out.
Sabina Martins, convener of AAAAG (Aam Aurat Aadmi Against Gambling), believes all political parties try to make casinos an election issue, but forget all about it once they come to power. “Casino owners have funded and promoted all political parties, though we cannot comment on AAP as it is a new entrant on Goa’s political canvas,” she says.
The CPI(M)’s state organising secretary, Thalmann Pereira, also thinks AAP is only adding to the voice of others. “What Parrikar did as Opposition leader, now AAP is trying to do,” says Pereira. “Modi too should have gone after the casinos for four hours; a lot of black money would have come back, money-laundering would have stopped here and country’s economy would have been richer.”
Besides casinos and culture, religion and caste too are likely to dominate the election narrative in the state. The AAP, according to local observers, is focusing mainly on the Catholics, who comprise about 25 per cent of the electorate, with a sizable population in seven-eight constituencies. Traditionally inclined towards the Congress, many shifted their loyalty to the BJP in the last election. Though AAP hopes to win over some of them, it doesn’t have any well-known face to project as the CM candidate. As of now, say sources, the opinion in the party seems to be in favour of Elvis Gomes, a former state administrative service officer who is contesting from Cuncolim.
AAP’s focus on Catholics, however, may not go down well with others, especially in North Goa, one of the state’s two districts, since most constituencies are Hindu-dominated. BJP leaders claim AAP is nowhere in the contention, insisting its visibility on the ground may not translate into votes. Going by the BJP’s internal assessment until last month, says Rao, “AAP won’t get even 10 per cent voteshare and may draw a blank in terms of seats.”
However, local leaders claim a lot hinges on the party permutations that would take shape in the run-up to the election—will the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) ally with the Congress or the MGP (Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party) ally with the BJP, and so on. They also admit AAP could make an entry in some seats.
The MGP, which has three MLAs in the 40-seat assembly, hopes to better the tally irrespective of whether there’s a pre-poll alliance with the BJP or not. The BJP, with 21 MLAs, is holding its campaign on surgical strikes, demonetisation and the promise of a “modern Goa”. It plans to make Goa the first ‘cashless’ state by December-end.
The Congress, on the other hand, is being accused of having been an inert opposition that rarely raised people’s issues in the assembly. There is trust deficit within the state unit as well as between the party and voters. No one from the Congress was available for comments.
At the grassroots level, it is the BJP’s presence that is most palpable. Even leaving aside the Catholics, the BJP is confident of bagging enough votes by banking on the Hindu voters. The Saraswat Brahmins comprise less than 10 per cent of the voters, but they wield considerable influence in the state as most of them belong to the rich business class and also occupy top positions in the bureaucracy. Parrikar’s personal popularity—he won from Panaji four times despite belonging to Mapusa—could play a big role if his party enlists him for extensive campaigning in the state.