Mumbai: One of the key subplots of these Goa elections, one which could literally have a bearing on 25 per cent of the state’s 40 assembly seats, is the unique presence of five couples who are trying their luck at the hustings. Some are in the BJP, some in the Congress, and some across party lines from each other, but their political ambitions have been the source of upheaval in the run-up to the polls.
Take for example, Michael and Delilah Lobo.
In November, Michael, who was a minister in the Pramod Sawant-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and an MLA from the tourist belt of Calangute, said his wife Delilah will “most certainly” contest the assembly election from the neighbouring constituency of Siolim.
In December, Delilah, then vice president of the BJP’s women’s wing in Goa, also launched her own campaign in Siolim though the BJP had spoken about fielding former minister Dayanand Mandrekar from the constituency.
By January, when it became evident that both husband and wife are not likely to get a place in the BJP’s candidate list, the Lobo couple resigned from the party. Michael stepped down as MLA and cabinet minister and the husband-wife duo are now contesting from Calangute and Siolim, respectively, as Congress candidates.
The other four couples in the fray this time are Atanasio and Jennifer Monserrate, contesting from Panaji and Taleigao, Vishwajit and Deviya Rane from Valpoi and Poriem, Chandrakant and Savitri Kavalekar from Quepem and Sanguem, and Kiran and Kavita Kandolkar from Aldona and Thivim.
Two couples strategic for BJP
When preparations for the upcoming assembly election started, at least four BJP leaders —Lobo, Kavalekar, Rane and Monserrate — were lobbying within the party for their wives to get candidature, party sources told ThePrint. But the BJP has a stated policy of giving candidature to only one member of every family.
The party’s first list of candidates for 34 of the 40 seats, however, raised some eyebrows as it incorporated two couples — the Monserrates and Ranes.
The Monserrates were both incumbent MLAs from Tisvadi taluka’s Panaji and Taleigao, and that made it easier for the BJP to defend its decision, though it came at the cost of upsetting Parrikar’s son Utpal who was eyeing the Panaji seat.
Moreover, party sources said, the Monserrates, who were Congress MLAs till they shifted to the BJP in 2019, were instrumental in getting a total of 10 Congress MLAs, including themselves, to defect to the BJP and have built considerable influence in four of the five seats of Tisvadi taluka over the years.
Offering candidature to political debutante Deviya Rane too was strategic as the BJP has fielded her from Poriem, the seat of Congress’ Pratapsingh Rane, Deviya’s father-in-law. Six-time former CM Rane was the Congress’ first choice for the Poriem seat but decided to stay out of the race on the second-last day of filing nominations.
A senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named said, “The BJP has never won Poriem and had Pratapsingh Rane contested, it would have been difficult. Contesting against his daughter-in-law would have been as good as contesting against his son and we knew he would have never done that.”
With this arrangement, Vishwajit also gets to truly inherit the Rane family’s traditional hold on the Sattari taluka, comprising the Valpoi and Poriem constituencies. At a corner meeting at Pissurlem village in the Poriem constituency last week, Deviya said she joined politics to “reduce the workload of her spouse and once elected to power both will work for the development of Sattari.”
Goa-based political commentator and advocate Cleofato Coutinho told ThePrint, “This election, there is no one pan-Goa mass leader like Manohar Parrikar was for BJP earlier, but you can see individual leaders trying to create a stronghold for them within Goa’s different talukas. The Lobos are trying to do that in Bardez, the Kavalekars are trying to get a grip on the neighbouring talukas of Sanguem and Quepem, the Monserrates are consolidating their hold in Tisvadi and so on.”
Shifting allegiances to make space for wives
The BJP’s decision to honour the wishes of two of its leaders and ignore those of the other two created frictions with the Lobos and Kavalekars refusing to bow down.
Speaking to ThePrint in December before his resignation, Lobo said the BJP has “forgotten the ethics of politics” initiated under Parrikar and that the “party has become commercial where values don’t matter.” He had also lamented how the party was using one yardstick for certain leaders and another for certain others like him when it came to giving candidature to BJP leaders’ family members. The following month, Lobo and his wife, who had been sarpanch of Parra in North Goa, joined Congress.
Among the Kavlekars, when Savitri’s name did not feature in the BJP’s candidate list for Sanguem, her husband decided to stay on and fight on a BJP ticket in Quepem. Savitri, however, stepped down as vice president of the BJP’s state women’s wing, resigned from the party and is contesting as an independent from the neighbouring Sanguem.
Savitri told ThePrint last month, “I have been doing a lot of social work in the constituency and contesting on my own might. My husband’s political career is different, mine is different.”
Similarly, Kandolkar, working president of Goa Forward Party (GFP) resigned and joined the TMC in November last year, when there were talks of an alliance with the Congress and the leader was worried that his Aldona seat may go to the Congress kitty. Moreover, as GFP working president, he had also declared his wife Kavita as his party’s candidate for Tivim and GFP’s possible alliance with Congress meant both the seats were under threat.
Eventually, the GFP and Congress announced their alliance in December and Aldona and Tivim both ended up being in the Congress’ share of seats.
(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)