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Catholic-dominated Salcete is BJP’s weakest link in Goa, but it hopes new strategy can help

BJP has fielded nominees in all 8 seats of Salcete taluka, including 3 Catholics. Ruling party hopes this strategy, along with a fractured opposition, will help it win 2 or 3 seats.

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Panaji: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to tide over much of the anti-incumbency it is facing in Goa by banking on the division of opposition votes with multiple parties in the fray. However, the one area that party leaders are concerned about is the eight constituencies of the Catholic-dominated Salcete taluka, which have traditionally never shown a preference for the BJP.

In a new strategy this time, the BJP has fielded nominees in all eight constituencies of the Salcete taluka, including three Catholic candidates. The party is hoping that this arithmetic, along with a fractured opposition, will help it score at least two or three of the eight seats.

“The BJP is benefiting from the fact that in constituencies where it could be touch and go, or which are not guaranteed BJP seats, the rival candidates who are the strongest are scattered between multiple parties,” a senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named told ThePrint.

“Out of 40 seats, we are really weak in only about seven or eight, and these are all Salcete seats. Eighty-five percent of the population there is Catholic, so we don’t stand much of a chance,” he said.

A second BJP leader added: “Our best performance in Salcete was in 2002 when we won two seats, otherwise it has been tough. But, now with so many parties in the fray and our candidate in every constituency, we are hoping to win at least two.”

Also read: In Goa politics, personalities matter more than party. These polls are more proof

Kingmakers and defectors

The Salcete taluka, spread over the southern coast of Goa with the River Sal and its backwaters dominating the landscape, sends the highest number of legislators to the state’s 40-member assembly from among all the eleven talukas of the state.

The eight assembly constituencies of Salcete are Navelim, Curtorim, Benaulim, Nuvem, Velim, Margao, Cuncolim and Fatorda.

Over the past four elections, the Salcete region has either chosen the Congress, or shown a preference for certain candidates, irrespective of whether they contest as Congress candidates or Independents or through smaller parties.

For example, Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco represented Curtorim for three straight terms, first as a candidate of the local Save Goa Front, and the other two times as a Congress MLA. This time, Lourenco resigned from the Congress, joined the Trinamool Congress, quit it within a month and is now contesting the election as an Independent.

Similarly, Filipe Neri Rodrigues has won four out of the past five elections from the Velim constituency in Salcete, three times as a Congress candidate and once as an Independent. In 2019, Rodrigues was among the 10 MLAs who defected to the BJP and became a minister in the Pramod Sawant-led government. Earlier this year, he resigned as MLA and will now contest the Velim seat as an NCP candidate.

Five of the eight sitting MLAs of Salcete have quit their parties ahead of the 14 February assembly election.

Legislators of the eight Salcete seats have often been kingmakers in the Goa assembly, with its long history of fractured mandates.

Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardesai with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Sardesai, incumbent MLA from Fatorda, is looking for another term as a legislator, this time in a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. | Facebook
Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardesai (second left) with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (second right). Sardesai, incumbent MLA from Fatorda, is looking for another term as a legislator, this time in a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. | Facebook

For instance, after the 2017 assembly election when the BJP formed a government despite the Congress emerging as the single-largest party, it secured the support of Goa Forward Party’s (GFP) Vijai Sardesai, MLA from Salcete’s Fatorda constituency, and Churchill Alemao, MLA from Salcete’s Benaulim, who was at the time with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Sardesai has since snapped his ties with the BJP and is contesting against the party in Fatorda, while Alemao is the Trinamool Congress’ candidate in Benaulim.

Also read: In high-profile battle for Panaji, BJP has more at stake than just winning Goa’s capital

BJP in Salcete

“It is not that we haven’t made a dent in Salcete. We have won three seats from the taluka in the past. Last election we did not win any seat in Salcete, but this time we are very confident of getting at least 2-3 seats,” CM Pramod Sawant had said, speaking to ThePrint last month at Panaji.

BJP has so far won Margao in 1994, 1999 and 2002, but that was because Digambar Kamat, who became CM for the Congress in 2007, was with the BJP then. After Kamat shifted to the Congress, the Margao seat went with him.

Other than Margao, the BJP has won the Fatorda seat twice, with Damu Naik trumping the Congress in 2002 and 2007, and the Cuncolim seat once in 2012, with the Congress finishing a close second.

Churchill and his daughter Valanka Alemao. Churchill will contest the upcoming election from Benaulim as a TMC candidate, while his daughter is the TMC’s candidate for Navelim. | Facebook
Churchill Alemao and his daughter Valanka. Churchill will contest the upcoming election from Benaulim as a TMC candidate, while his daughter is the TMC’s candidate for Navelim | Facebook

In 2017, the BJP did not win a single seat in Salcete.

Party sources told ThePrint that former CM Manohar Parrikar tried a strategy before the 2012 polls that came to be known as ‘Mission Salcete’, based on the assumption that a Catholic-dominated region may not openly prefer the BJP.

Targeting the anti-Congress votes in Salcete, Parrikar decided to support certain strong Independent candidates in Salcete rather than directly fielding a BJP nominee. Two Independents — Avertano Furtado from Navelim and Benjamin Silva from Velim — extended their support for a Parrikar-led BJP government to be sworn in.

Furtado was also part of the state cabinet for a few years.

However, Parrikar’s ‘Mission Salcete’ did not bring many long-term gains for BJP in Salcete. Both Furtado and Silva lost to Congress candidates in the 2017 assembly polls.

(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)

Also read: If Utpal was a BJP worker, he should’ve accepted the alternative seat, says Pramod Sawant


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