New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) had a high-profile beginning to its electoral foray in Goa with the induction of former state chief minister and Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro in late September. However, the party seems to have hit a roadblock in its plans for a “Navi Sakal (new dawn)” in the state.
TMC leaders, the party’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor, and his political consultancy firm Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) have repeatedly reached out to important political faces in the state in order to induct them, but most negotiations seem to be fizzling out.
The consensus among political analysts and leaders in Goa is that the party’s “anti-Hindu” image is working against it.
Ever since the TMC announced that it would be contesting the Goa assembly elections, the state BJP has made a concerted effort to highlight the post-poll violence in West Bengal earlier this year in order to project the Mamata Banerjee-led party as violent and hostile to Hindus.
“The violence that happened in West Bengal after the elections was largely unknown to the people of Goa. But after Mamata Banerjee announced that she’s coming to Goa, videos and images of Hindu BJP workers being targeted, beaten, and killed spread via social media,” Goa BJP president Sadanand Tanavade told ThePrint.
“Goa is a peaceful, small place. People here do not like the idea of political violence, especially that which is communal in nature,” he added.
The violence is currently under investigation by the CBI and a special investigation team formed by the Calcutta High Court.
The Trinamool Congress, however, is unfazed, saying the “people of Goa are intelligent and can see through the BJP’s design”.
TMC’s ‘anti-Hindu’ baggage gives AAP an advantage
The TMC’s reputation has seemingly affected its ability to forge political liaisons in the state, especially in North Goa, which has 19 of the state’s 40 assembly states and a population that is about 76 per cent Hindu (Census 2011).
While the TMC has tried to counter its anti-Hindu image, with Mamata Banerjee visiting three temples in two days during her Goa visit in late October, this hasn’t quite worked.
A video from Banerjee’s visit to Mangueshi Temple in North Goa went viral. The BJP subsequently claimed she’d insulted Hindu sentiments when she was shown shaking off holy water from her hands. This appeared to dent the party’s image even further.
Since Faleiro, the TMC has not been able to induct any political heavyweights — even those who are “naturally” opposed to the BJP.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is also attempting to secure a foothold in Goa after its 2017 debacle, is faring better on inducting leaders because it is perceived as more friendly to Hindus.
For instance, the TMC had aggressively pursued Vishwajeet Krishnarao Rane, a BJP leader from the state’s Poriem constituency. Rane was seen as a good prospect because he had contested the 2012 and 2017 state elections from Poriem (held for 11 continuous terms by veteran Congress leader and former Goa CM Pratapsinh Rane) and placed second both times.
However, on 16 November, Vishwajeet Rane joined the AAP in the presence of its chief Arvind Kejriwal.
Vishwajeet Rane admitted that he eschewed the TMC because of its “problematic image”.
“Frankly speaking, I did not have a problem with the TMC per se. But when I asked around in my constituency, I did not get a great response. Some said that the ‘Congress’ in TMC gave out the wrong message to the people. Many also said that the party is pro-Muslim. I tried to explain to them that Mamata herself is a Hindu Brahmin. But they didn’t seem convinced,” he told ThePrint.
Puti Gaonkar, one of the top leaders of Goa’s mining movement, was also approached by the TMC, but joined the AAP early November.
Gaonkar is known to have a considerable hold over traders’ and workers’ unions across the state while also having the support of the mining lobby. Mining, stopped in Goa in 2012, was one of the biggest drivers of the state’s economy, and has now emerged as a major electoral issue.
“BJP ne TMC ka naam badnaam kar diya hai (the BJP has destroyed TMC’s reputation),” Gaonkar told ThePrint.
“The AAP, on the other hand, has a more pro-Hindu image. They’ve also been working in Goa since the last election and have more of an organisational base,” he said.
“The TMC may succeed in the 2027 election, but without any big name except Faleiro and also the additional baggage of their alleged religious affiliations, it did not make sense to join them at this point, especially since at least eight talukas in the North Goa region have over 95 per cent Hindu population.”
Manoj Kamat, a political analyst from Goa, isn’t surprised that the party seems to be floundering. “The AAP has a more ‘secular’ image than the TMC and the fact that they have been working here since the last election gives them a slight advantage. The TMC is yet to properly campaign on local, emotive issues. The mixture of the two has resulted in their campaign being a non-starter in Hindu majority areas,” Kamat said.
The TMC, meanwhile, has said that it will focus on “pro-people policies” to win over voters. “The BJP has a standard modus operandi of dividing society and spreading hate instead of working for the people. They tried such campaigns in Bengal and the people gave them a befitting reply. The people of Goa are intelligent and can see through the BJP’s design,” Trinamool’s national spokesperson Saket Gokhale, who has been camping in Goa, said.
TMC entry consolidates Christian votes behind Congress
Political observers in Goa have also noticed an interesting trend among the Christian voters in the state, especially in South Goa, which has 21 assembly seats and a Christian population of about 36 per cent. They say that the TMC’s entry has helped consolidate Christian voters for the Congress.
“After the TMC’s entry, those who were staunchly against the BJP have begun to see both the AAP and the TMC as vote-splitters. While this perception existed for the AAP earlier, it has sharpened after the entry of the TMC,” political analyst Cleofato Coutinho said.
Coutinho claimed that he had at least six meetings with I-PAC, which wanted to “induct neutral Catholic faces” into the TMC.
According to Coutinho, the TMC has “helped consolidate the Congress” in South Goa.
“The TMC was targeting Catholics, but the Catholics opposed to the BJP are jittery that a four-cornered fight may hand the advantage to the BJP. That apart, by inducting Faleiro, they have also effectively ended the power tussle in the Goa Congress between him and (former CM) Digambar Kamat,” he said. “This has helped the Congress’ organisation and they’ve become more aggressive than they usually are this many days before an election.”
The tussle is intensifying
Rohan Khaunte, an independent MLA from the Porvorim constituency, said the entry of the TMC and Kishor has been a “catalyst” for both the BJP and the Congress to ramp up their activities in Goa.
“Both parties are trying to reach out to even their smallest supporters and mark them as theirs, be it through felicitation ceremonies, local events, or other means,” Khaunte told ThePrint.
He shared that he had paid a “courtesy visit” to Mamata Banerjee when she came to Goa, but that he didn’t think “a party coming to the state barely 100 days before the elections” could make headway.
“Goa cannot be a platform for parties across the country to fulfil their national ambitions. The Goan people are not very open to parties that are perceived as outsiders.”
A number of Khaunte’s supporters have joined the Congress, sparking speculation that he too might follow suit soon. “My term as MLA ends before the election code comes into effect. I will consult my people and take a call after that,” Khaunte said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)