Mumbai: With assembly elections less than five months away, Goa is abuzz with parties making overtures to each other for pre-poll alliances and leaders holding closed-door talks.
However, the principal opposition party, the Congress, is lagging behind in the action. The party has neither initiated formal alliance talks with any of the regional parties in the fray, nor made public overtures, nor responded to those made by other parties.
“Our leaders P. Chidambaram and Dinesh Grundu Rao are touring Goa at the block level, discussing issues with local karyakartas (workers). No formal discussion has started with any party on an alliance,” Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar told ThePrint.
In 2017, Congress lost the Goa government to the BJP despite emerging as the single-largest party with three short of the halfway mark mainly because it did not take steps towards stitching together an alliance with other parties and Independents.
“It seems the Congress is repeating the same mistake it did in 2017, though this time, there are some talks going on behind the curtains. But, it is true that they (the Congress) are doing their politics susegad (laidback manner). That killer instinct, fire in the belly required for winning elections is missing in the Congress party,” said political analyst Cleofato Coutinho.
Parties in alliance talks
The Goa Forward Party (GFP), a former BJP ally, is in talks with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress for a pre-poll tie-up for the 2022 election.
In 2017, the GFP had allied with the BJP to help the latter form the government, but parted ways when the BJP unceremoniously dropped GFP ministers from the cabinet after engineering defections from other parties and bolstering its strength in the assembly, making the GFP redundant. The GFP formally severed ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in April this year.
The GFP had earlier approached the Congress for a possible alliance to take on the BJP, but the party did not respond, though GFP founder Vijai Sardesai kept setting deadlines for it to take a decision on his proposal.
Meanwhile, the BJP has made overtures to GFP as well as the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), another former ally that it had spurned by getting two of its three MLAs to join it in 2019.
Last week, after Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Goa, BJP Goa president Sadanand Shet Tanavade said the party was open to alliance talks with regional parties to “protect Goemkarponn (Goan culture)”. The BJP also swiftly clamped down on internal dissent within its Goa unit by accommodating Vishwajit Rane, who has had friction with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, in its national executive committee as a special invitee.
The MGP, however, ruled out an alliance with the BJP. The party, which was in talks for an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has ruled out any tie-up with the Arvind Kejriwal-led party too.
“With AAP, it’s not going to work out. We are, however, totally against the BJP and are willing to tie up with any party to vote out the BJP government in Goa. This includes the Congress,” MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar told ThePrint.
“We won’t have an outright alliance with the Congress, but we are open to an arrangement where we support each other on certain seats,” Dhavalikar said, adding that the Congress is likely to accelerate its election preparation now as the Trinamool Congress has posed a new threat to its voter base and ground cadre.
A senior Goa Congress leader who did not wish to be named said, “All parties are being very selfish right now and are in talks with everyone. The MGP and GFP should have the wisdom to not respond to the BJP’s overtures having been ditched by the party once.
“The Congress has a good chance this time, but we need to get our act together and fast track things. We have sent some proposals to our high command regarding possible alliances, candidates. We will try to fast-track these things.”
Optics and lack of options
Congress leaders as well as political analysts said the party does not have too many options for pre-poll tie ups that will also make for good optics.
“We didn’t respond to the GFP because we cannot trust the party and Vijai Sardesai. In 2017, the GFP ditched us and allied with the BJP though we were the single largest party,” said a second Congress functionary.
When he decided to ally with the BJP in 2017, Sardesai, a former Congress leader, had justified it by blaming it for having an untrustworthy record.
The MGP, which attracts a Hindu conservative vote-bank, is ideologically different from the Goa Congress, which attracts more Catholic and secular votes. Sources from both Congress and MGP said the two parties are still informally exploring some arrangement.
“Everyone is in talks with the MGP and they are in talks with everyone. That leaves AAP, which is Congress’ rival at the national level, and the TMC, which entered Goa by breaking the Congress, poaching a senior former CM like Luizinho Faleiro,” said political commentator Coutinho. “So optically, these two parties are also not strong options for the Congress to ally with.”
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)