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BJP confident TMC & AAP will split votes in Goa, but its own alliance plans are up in the air

BJP strategists think a many-sided contest in the upcoming assembly polls could help it retain power in Goa. But it has its own problems with alliances, and many ticket hopefuls.

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New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has welcomed, in a tactical sense, the efforts of parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to make inroads in the upcoming Goa Assembly elections.

Although BJP leaders have criticised the entry of these parties into Goa politics, the ruling party’s strategists believe this will work to their benefit by splitting the opposition vote.

But a major challenge for the BJP in this election will be to handle its own contenders for tickets. Additionally, forging an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to curb the division of votes in North Goa is also proving to be a big ask, according to leaders ThePrint spoke to.

When Union Home Minister Amit Shah toured Goa in October, he emphasised one thing to the state’s BJP leaders: The more the opposition votes are split, the easier it will be for the party to win the election.

That’s why, apart from firming up its own alliances, the BJP is also keeping an eye on the  Congress’s efforts to cobble together a coalition with parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Goa Forward Party (GFP). BJP strategists said it was a relief for them that parties such as the TMC and AAP will split the anti-BJP votes in Catholic-dominated South Goa, making the ruling party’s task easier.

In the last state election in 2017, the BJP won just 13 seats in the 40-member assembly. The Congress emerged as the single largest party, winning 17 seats in South Goa thanks to a strong Catholic support base. However, with both falling short of a majority, the BJP stitched together an alliance with smaller parties to form a government.

“The TMC will split the Congress’s votes and not those of the BJP. The votes cast against the BJP will be divided among these parties. AAP contested 36 seats in the 2017 election, but lost their deposits in all the seats. You don’t get votes just by putting up flags on each and every electric pole of Goa. Everyone is welcome in Goa. Our task will only become easier,” Goa BJP president Sadanand Tanavade told ThePrint.

Speaking about candidate selection, Tanavade said, “We are waiting to see who goes where. We have not asked anyone to leave. Yet, it is certain that only winnable candidates will get tickets. The entire situation will be clear by the end of December. We have plans A, B, and C in place. In case someone leaves the party, it has already been decided who will get a ticket in their place.”

Also read: ‘Anti-Hindu’ & ‘vote-cutter’ — why TMC’s foray into Goa is getting tougher

Wider scope for bargaining, infighting

The electoral calculus in Goa is complex. The earnest entry of the TMC and AAP into the state’s politics has left BJP MLAs seeking tickets for their kin. According to one BJP leader, at least 10 leaders are currently trying to get tickets for their sons or wives.

For example, Michael Lobo, BJP MLA for Calangute, unilaterally announced earlier this month that his wife, Delilah, would “most certainly” contest the Siolim seat, adjacent to Lobo’s own constituency. He also stated his support for his friend Sudhir Kandolkar to contest the Mapusa seat — support irrespective of the party that Kandolkar, currently in the Congress, contests for.

Joshua D’Souza, the sitting BJP MLA from Mapusa, sought action Monday against Lobo for his alleged anti-party activities. And former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who the BJP has placed in charge of the Goa election, brought Lobo to New Delhi for a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah to forestall his possible defection.

However, BJP sources said Lobo might leave the party any time now, and that he is already in talks with the Congress. He could affect the electoral arithmetic in five to six seats in North Goa. The BJP needs to retain Lobo to maintain its influence in this region, where it has a strong support base in some 20 seats.

Last week, Vishwajit Krishnarao Rane, another prominent BJP leader and 2017 election candidate, joined AAP in the presence of its leader, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

“I joined the BJP because of (former chief minister) Manohar Parrikar’s work for Goa. (Current chief minister) Pramod Sawant does not have that kind of vision, nor does he possess any passion to complete Goa’s development. The current government is dominated by corrupt people,” Rane told ThePrint.

In the Mandrem constituency, there’s a fierce duel going on between incumbent MLA Dayanand Sopte and former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar. As a Congress candidate in the 2017 election, Sopte had defeated Parsekar, the BJP’s sitting MLA. Sopte proceeded to defect to the BJP in 2018. Now, Sopte has inaugurated his electoral office, and accused Parsekar of levelling fabricated allegations to ensure his defeat. Fadnavis agreed to Sopte’s candidature Monday, but Parsekar didn’t attend the programme.

“It’s not just the floating MLAs — all our MLAs are currently swimming in a pool. So many department stores have come up now that everyone has a plethora of choices before them. It will reduce the pressure on the main parties,” Parsekar told ThePrint.

Also read: Beyond optics, what Pope Francis accepting Modi’s invite means for Christians in India

MGP alliance key in North

The second major difficulty the BJP faces is preventing the division of votes, at least in its North Goa stronghold. In a many-sided contest, 5,000-6,000 votes are all it takes to win a seat.

Parrikar formed a government in 2017 with the support of three MLAs from the MGP. But after the former’s death in 2019, the new chief minister, Sawant, secured a majority for the BJP with the help of 10 defectors from the Congress and two from the MGP. The sole remaining MGP MLA, party chief Sudin Dhavalikar, was then dropped as deputy chief minister.

Now, despite all the BJP’s efforts, the MGP seems reluctant to greenlight an alliance. The latter had asked for 12 seats earlier, and negotiations are now on to secure at least eight. BJP leaders including Fadnavis and Union minister Nitin Gadkari have met Dhavalikar and his brother Deepak, leaders of the MGP, thrice within the past month. The ruling party’s national president, J.P. Nadda, made a two-day visit to Goa (24-25 November) to take stock of the situation.

Another erstwhile BJP ally, Vijay Sardesai’s GFP, is engaged in seat-sharing talks with the Congress. Sardesai had briefly succeeded Dhavalikar as deputy chief minister in March 2019 before being ousted four months later.

“Our desperation to strike an alliance with the MGP gives enough indication that the situation is not normal. In today’s situation, it is not possible for any party to get a majority. We will be in a better position if an alliance is formed. But whatever is to happen will happen after the election,” a prominent BJP leader told ThePrint.

Such a partnership could make all the difference when winning margins are tight. For example, in the Siroda assembly constituency in 2017, the Congress secured victory after polling 11,156 votes, compared to the BJP’s 6,286 and the MGP’s 5,815. An alliance between the latter two that consolidated both parties’ votes would have won the seat. There are 10 such seats, including Ponda and Santa Cruz, where the BJP could have won through an alliance with the MGP. And this time, the BJP isn’t ready to take the risk of contesting alone.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s campaign pitch for Goa polls: ‘Treat me like family, talk to me’

TMC will split minority votes in South

In South Goa, a Congress bastion, the BJP is buoyed by a possible split in minority votes due to the TMC’s presence. Hindus, Christians, and Muslims respectively make up 66, 26 and 8.33 per cent of the state’s population. Of the BJP’s 27 MLAs, 15 are Catholic. Eight of these are former Congress MLAs who won from South Goa.

Now, with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act in cold storage, and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to Pope Francis to visit India, the BJP seems jubilant about its prospects in South Goa.

“The prime minister’s meeting with the Pope has sent a very good signal, and the Catholic community’s trust in the BJP has increased. It will benefit us. The TMC will also split some votes, which will ultimately favour us,” BJP MLA Sopte said.

The Congress, which had won 17 seats in the 2017 Assembly polls, is left with just five MLAs due to defections to the BJP. The MGP has just one MLA, Dhavalikar — two others have defected to the BJP — while the GFP has three.

BJP leaders said both these smaller parties had extended support to the ruling party due to Parrikar’s goodwill and Gadkari’s friendship. In 2012, the BJP secured an absolute majority under Parrikar’s leadership after contesting the polls in alliance with the MGP. However, if Goa sees a hung assembly once more, then CM Sawant’s toughest challenge will be to gain the trust of the smaller parties.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: With free pilgrimages, power and a Bhandari CM, AAP claims it is setting agenda in Goa

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