Mumbai/New Delhi: On Monday, Union ministers G. Kishan Reddy and Darshana Jardosh, and Maharashtra Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis visited Goa to strategise for the 2022 assembly election.
In August, and earlier this month too, senior Congress leader and former Union minister P. Chidambaram was also in Goa for the same reason, and planned for an overhaul of the party’s cadre on the ground, the block units.
The coastal state is India’s smallest at 3,702 square kilometres and has a population of 14.85 lakh (2011 Census), approximately one-tenth that of Mumbai and Delhi. Yet, there is something about Goa that politically makes the catch much bigger than its size for the two principal national parties, the Congress and the BJP.
Goa’s strategic location as a neighbour of Maharashtra and Karnataka, both politically significant states where voters from border areas share a common culture, increases the state’s appeal for the BJP as well as the Congress.
Speaking to ThePrint, Cleofato Coutinho, a Goa-based political analyst, said, “Other than the fact that it adds one more state to the tally of these parties, Goa is like a showpiece that everyone wants, with its real estate sector that attracts the whole country’s attention, and industries such as tourism and mining with large corporate stakes.”
Moreover, he said, parties have to pull all their weight for a victory here because of Goa’s tiny constituencies, personality-based rather than party-powered politics, and narrow victory margins.
Politics of Goa
Every assembly constituency in Goa has about 25,000 to 30,000 electors. This means, in a two-cornered fight, a candidate only needs about 12,000 votes to win. In a three-cornered fight, even 3,000-4,000 votes are enough to secure a victory, so parties need to ensure theirs is the strongest candidate in the fray.
The small size of constituencies helps public representatives build an individual following where they are confident of being re-elected irrespective of the party they contest from.
This has led to a long history of defections in Goa, which has 40 assembly seats. In the current BJP-led legislature too, the Congress had won 17 seats in the 2017 polls. Now, the party is left with just five MLAs, with the majority of its legislators having defected to the ruling party. Similarly, the regional Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), too, has just one legislator now, with two others having defected to the BJP. The MGP was among the parties that helped the BJP, which had 13 seats, form its government in 2017.
This means, closer to elections, parties need to keep a keen eye on their flock.
BJP Goa president Sadanand Shet Tanavade told ThePrint, “Devendra Fadnavis is a very smart and experienced politician who has worked for Goa elections in 2007, 2012, addressed several campaign rallies in 2017, so he knows how things work here. He knows how to handle the issue of defections.”
Tanavade added, “Fadnavis met all BJP MLAs, ministers, the party’s office-bearers on his very first visit. On Tuesday, he had breakfast with MLA and minister Michael Lobo, lunch with Deputy CM Chandrakant Kavlekar and dinner with (Congress MLA and former chief minister) Pratapsingh Rane.”
Lobo, the MLA for Calangute, and ports minister in the Pramod Sawant-led Goa government, has hinted at being unhappy in the BJP, and has spoken about offers from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to join them before the polls.
Kavlekar is a former Congress MLA who jumped to the BJP in July 2019, when 10 of the party’s legislators joined the ruling party.
Fadnavis’ dinner diplomacy at Congress MLA Rane’s residence, too, is significant as his son, Vishwajit Rane, had joined the BJP soon after the election in 2017 and has had some friction with CM Sawant.
Tanavade said, “Pratapsingh Rane is a senior, experienced former CM of Goa and has completed 50 years in political life. He shared his experiences. There was no discussion about him joining the BJP.”
BJP’s first state election without Parrikar
For the BJP, the 2022 Goa election is also significant as it is the first without former CM Manohar Parrikar, who died in March 2019. In 2017, the BJP had to bring Parrikar — then the Union defence minister — back to the state to form a government after the Congress emerged as the single-largest party.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s Shripad Naik retained the North Goa seat, but the party lost the South Goa seat, said to have a significant Catholic population, to the Congress.
While Parrikar had a larger-than-life image and an appeal among Goa’s Catholics, too, the BJP now needs to work towards cultivating these votes for the party under CM Sawant’s leadership.
Coutinho said, “For outsiders, Goa is synonymous with its churches and Catholic population, though in reality minority votes are only 38 per cent. But, due to this image, winning Goa helps the BJP create an impression nationally that it also has the support of the minority community.”
Party leaders say Goa also has a special place in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart.
In 2002, following the post-Godhra riots, when the stage appeared set for Modi’s sacking as Gujarat chief minister, it was at a meeting in Goa that he won the support of members of the BJP national executive committee.
In 2013, at another convention in Goa, Modi was chosen as the BJP’s chief election campaigner for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, sealing his nomination as the party’s PM contender.
Goa win important for Congress too
For the Congress, whose footprint across the country has considerably shrunk over the past decade, severely impacting its finances, a win in Goa will mean an increase in the tally of states where the party is in power.
It will also help the party regain control over a territory where it once had some sway, before the BJP grew stronger.
Over the last four years, the Goa Congress has constantly taunted the BJP for “stealing power”, as the former had emerged as the single-largest party — short of the halfway mark by three seats — in 2017, and the BJP cobbled together an alliance with regional parties to form the government.
The 2022 election is important for the Congress to prove that it enjoys majority support in Goa.
While the BJP has brought in the party’s tall leaders to keep its imported flock together, the Congress has done the same to give the beleaguered party, ridden with factionalism and dissent, a fighting chance.
In his two visits to Goa so far, Chidambaram met the Congress’ office bearers and block-level leaders to understand their concerns, and also started the process of restructuring the leadership of the 40 blocks, one for each constituency.
State Congress president Girish Chodankar said, “For the time, a central leader came and directly interacted with block workers of the party. It has charged the party completely.”
However, the party’s state unit is suffering from intense factionalism with several senior party leaders wanting a change in the Goa Congress’ leadership. But, both Chidambaram and the All India Congress Committee leadership have been non-committal so far.
When asked about the reports of factionalism, Chodankar didn’t comment.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)