Former Goa CM Luizinho Faleiro (extreme left) joins Trinamool Congress in presence of party MP Abhishek Banerjee (extreme left), in Kolkata last month. | ANI
Former Goa CM Luizinho Faleiro (extreme left) joins Trinamool Congress in presence of party MP Abhishek Banerjee (extreme left), in Kolkata last month. | ANI
Text Size:

Kolkata/Mumbai: The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which swept to power in Bengal for a third consecutive term this summer, has plans to go national. And integral to its plans are two states in the opposite corners of India — Tripura in the east and Goa, in the west.

Of the two, Goa goes to polls next year and the Trinamool is going all-out to ensure a stunning debut there.

In the past six weeks, the party has made substantial inroads into Goa, with the help of senior leaders and workers from the Congress, AAP, Shiv Sena and the BJP who have joined the Trinamool. So much so, that Mamata Banerjee’s party has decided to fight the polls alone and will field candidates in all 40 seats in Goa. The assembly polls are scheduled to be held in February 2022.

To supervise the party’s election preparations in the state, senior Trinamool leaders, MPs and ministers have been camping in Goa in phases since September. Banerjee is scheduled to visit at the end of this month — around, or after, October 28 — ThePrint has learnt from party sources. The Trinamool has also opened its office in the state and is planning to expand across districts.

Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), which manages the Trinamool Congress’ political-electoral strategy, has also posted its team and set up office in Goa two months back.

West Bengal minister Manas Bhunia, who has been camping in Goa for weeks, told ThePrint “there is a tremendous impetus here”.

“I am travelling across villages and seeing people’s responses. They do not want the BJP in power, and have lost faith in the Congress after its fiasco in 2017. They closely followed the Bengal election and believe that Didi is the only force that can fight the BJP,” he said.

“The Goans are particularly in favour of Didi for her unflinching support for secularism. As you know, Goa is a state that has a substantial Christian population. They faced harassment by the BJP,” claimed the former MP.

In Goa, 66 per cent of the population are Hindus, while Christians comprise 25 per cent (according to Census 2011).

Manoj Tiwary, Bengal’s MoS for sports and youth affairs has also spent weeks in Goa.

“We started talking to the footballers and other sports icons. At least two senior footballers and a very senior boxer have already reposed faith in Didi. Goa is rich in its sports culture, but the BJP government has done nothing to support the sports enthusiasts there. We are talking to all of them to pledge support for us,” Tiwary, a former cricketer, told The Print.

Trinamool’s leader in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’ Brien, has also been camping in Goa for the past two months.


Also read: Why BJP and Congress are putting in all their might to win Goa, India’s smallest state


Building base

Abhishek Banerjee, Trinamool’s national general secretary, while addressing a party programme in Kolkata last month, ruled out the possibility of an alliance with the AAP or the Shiv Sena in the state.

And since September the party has been busy welcoming into its fold senior Goa politicians and intellectuals, including Luizinho Faleiro, who was a Congress CM of the state, former general secretary of the Congress’ Goa unit Yatish Naik, and Congress leader Swati Kerkar.

“At least 10 of the current BJP MLAs are actually imported from the Congress. So they didn’t even win the people’s mandate back in 2017. There are multiple factions within the party and senior leaders are unhappy with the current chief minister Pramod Sawant and the way he was backed by Amit Shah in his recent visit. The biggest blow is the fact that their natural ally — MGP (Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party) — has refused to have an alliance with them,” an I-PAC member who doesn’t want to be named, told ThePrint.

“If there is one beacon of hope in the country today who has successfully defeated the BJP and their dangerous brand of divisive politics, it is Mamata Banerjee,” said Faleiro.

Kerkar, who joined the Trinamool this week, said she had no option but to quit AAP and Congress and join the Trinamool. “Neither the Congress nor the AAP gave me a platform to take independent decisions in favour of the people of Goa. Despite repeated pleas, there was no action.”

Kerkar had been an AAP candidate for the 2014 parliamentary elections. In 2016, she had joined the Congress.

Independent MLA Prasad Gaonkar has also pledged his support to the Trinamool Congress. While he hasn’t formally joined the party as he is waiting to finish his term in the assembly, a bunch of his supporters, including his brother Sandesh Gaonkar, joined the party earlier this month.

 


Also read: BJP’s former Goa allies want to take on party, but are having trouble finding partners


‘Eroding Congress base’

The buzz in Goa, however, is more about election strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC — which is driving the TMC’s narrative in Goa — than the party itself.

Political watchers, as well as leaders in Goa from across parties, told ThePrint that the strategy is to carpet bomb the coastal state with Trinamool Congress’ presence, decking up the whole state with advertisements and hoardings of the party. All propaganda material, with pictures of Mamata Banerjee, market the entry of Trinamool in Goa as “Goenchi Navi Sakal” (Goa’s new dawn).

Members of I-PAC are consolidating support by setting up one-on-one meetings with Goa’s key political activists, NGO founders, academicians, journalists and editors and others.

“Their approach seems to be how best to control the narrative ahead of the election here. They are meeting opinion-makers, trying to manage the media. They have their hoardings everywhere in Goa, and they are meeting people individually to build influence,” a senior Goa-based advocate, who I-PAC had approached and had a meeting with to seek support for the Trinamool Congress, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

In the one-odd month since the Trinamool announced its intention to contest the Goa polls, the party has inducted several eminent Goans from across sectors. These include boxer Lenny D’Gama, former Indian football defender Denzil Franco, former international footballer Anthony Rabello, filmmaker Tony Dias and activist Jayesh Shetgaonkar, who runs the campaign ‘Goa Against Coal’ (a platform to prevent Goa from turning into a massive coal hub and preserve its environment).

Besides, the Trinamool Congress has also inducted the Congress’ foot soldiers in Goa. In a statement Tuesday, I-PAC said over 200 Congress workers and office-bearers had given their support to the Trinamool Congress. This included Priya Rathore, general secretary of the Congress’ women’s wing in Goa, as well as Dashrath Mandrekar, the Congress’ block president for Valpoi, an assembly constituency in North Goa.

“Trinamool Congress is completely eroding the Congress’ base in Goa. They are building their cadre in the state largely with a pool of former Congress workers. This has really threatened the party (Congress), and has also stirred it up a bit to fast-track its poll preparation now,” Deepak Dhavalikar, president of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), told ThePrint.

But Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenço, a Congress MLA and the party’s working president for Goa played down competition from the Trinamool, saying politics in Goa does not work like in other states and the I-PAC is failing to understand that.

Hinting at the coastal state’s long history of political defections, Lourenco said, “In Goa, ultimately, everyone does what they want in the end. Prashant Kishor is astute, and he may understand states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal, but Goa is different.”

Lourenço’s views on the uniqueness of polls in Goa are shared by Goa-based political commentator Cleofato Coutinho, who told ThePrint that Goan elections are very different from assembly polls in other states, and the Trinamool Congress’ entry may not make as big an impact as its campaign.

“In Goa, elections are based on personalities rather than parties. To that effect, Luizinho Faleiro’s influence is also limited to his part of the state. It is a state where a total of 7,000 votes in a constituency can make a victor and winning margins can be very slim.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: To ally with Pradyot Debbarma or not, that’s Trinamool’s big dilemma as it targets Tripura


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS