Mumbai: Jobs for locals, a subsidy for mining dependents, free electricity, free pilgrimages and a chief ministerial face from Goa’s most dominant community. These are the highlights of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) campaign in Goa.
With three months to go before the state assembly election, scheduled for February 2022, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party is trying to project itself as the one setting the narrative for the poll, and the only alternative to the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Its strategy has included populist promises and dabbling in nativism, while also attempting to get religion and caste equations right.
Rahul Mhambre, convenor of AAP in Goa, told ThePrint, “Arvind Kejriwal has given certain guarantees to the people of Goa that he will meet if AAP is voted to power. Every time Kejriwal makes a promise, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant copies it and makes some announcement. That’s why we are saying that AAP is setting the narrative.”
Mhambre, however, dismissed suggestions that AAP’s promises are populist or that the party is indulging in caste politics.
“We have the Delhi model to show to people in Goa. Delhi, after providing all these so-called freebies, still has a budget surplus. So we are not simply making populist promises. We are talking about what can practically be implemented. And it is not caste politics if we believe in taking everyone forward,” he said.
‘Kejriwal ki guarantee’
Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal has so far visited Goa four times for AAP’s campaign, and on each visit has made a promise that the party promotes as Kejriwal ki guarantee (Kejriwal’s guarantee) on social media.
AAP has promised free electricity up to 300 units, free power to farmers and uninterrupted power supply in Goa.
Similarly, the party has pledged to reserve 80 per cent of all jobs, including those in the private sector, for local Goans. Moreover, Kejriwal has promised to give at least one unemployed member of each family a government job, along with a monthly allowance of Rs. 3,000 for jobless young people till they find work.
AAP has also pledged to resume iron ore mining in six months, and until then, give a monthly allowance to those dependent on the industry. This industry was once a major employer and revenue generator for Goa, until it ran into legal troubles after the Justice M.B. Shah Commission submitted its report on illegal mining in 2012. Following Supreme Court rulings, no entity currently holds a valid iron ore mining licence in the state.
Additionally, the party has said it would set up a corporation comprising auto rickshaw and taxi drivers as office-bearers to decide on all matters affecting them.
Another promise is the ‘Teerth Yatra Scheme’, under which the party has pledged to sponsor pilgrimages for all Hindus to Ayodhya, Catholics to Velankanni in Tamil Nadu and Muslims to the Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan.
The party insists that these are not election gimmicks but workable schemes, with the free power and the pilgrimage schemes already being a reality in Delhi. According to party sources, the plan to provide free electricity up to 300 units, for instance, will cover 87 per cent of households and will cost the state Rs. 180 crore out of its annual Rs. 21,000-crore budget.
AAP has also promised that its chief ministerial candidate will be a leader from the Bhandari caste, which falls under the Other Backward Classes (OBC), and to make a Catholic face its candidate for deputy chief minister.
The Bhandari community is among the most dominant in Goa, making up about 60 per cent of the total OBC population, according to AAP leaders. Overall, OBCs make up about 30 per cent of the state’s voters, they said.
Mhambre said, “So far, Bhandaris have had only one chief minister from their community despite being a significant portion of the population. We believe that the community was not given due representation. It is not caste politics. There is no reason why a particular community should be left out.”
Earlier this month, Kejriwal also met the head of the Gomantak Bhandari Samaj, an influential organisation among the Bhandari community, on one of his visits to Goa.
Kejriwal has also visited temples in Goa, and faced criticism for allegedly promoting ‘soft Hindutva’.
‘Original, copy and B team’
A large part of AAP’s campaign over the past month has been to project how its version of governance is ‘original’, while the BJP is simply copying its various guarantees.
Mhambre said, “We said we would provide jobs to every household. Then Chief Minister Sawant came out with a statement that they would provide 10,000 jobs. The chief minister had also announced the pilgrimage in a state budget two years ago but it was never implemented. After our announcement, he said he would start the scheme in a month.”
AAP has made several memes calling itself original, the BJP a “cheap copy,” and the Congress the “BJP’s B Team,” alleging that the latter betrayed the verdict in its favour in 2017 and highlighting how a majority of its MLAs have defected to the BJP.
— Aam Aadmi Party Goa (@AAPGoa) November 17, 2021
— Aam Aadmi Party Goa (@AAPGoa) November 11, 2021
— Aam Aadmi Party Goa (@AAPGoa) November 10, 2021
In the 2017 assembly election, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party but fell short of the halfway mark, and the BJP formed a government by cobbling together an alliance with regional parties.
The BJP, meanwhile, is slamming AAP for copying its governance model in Goa, while the Congress has criticised the party for basing its campaign on “freebies and caste.”
Speaking to ThePrint, BJP Goa President Sadanand Shet Tanavade said, “Whatever AAP has promised, we are already doing in Goa. People have full faith in the Goa BJP. They say they are setting the agenda. What agenda? Goa is a very small place where people know exactly what is happening and can see chief minister Sawant’s work.”
Goa Congress President Girish Chodankar told ThePrint, “Every party is free to design their campaign the way they want to, but we believe in promising only those things that we can implement after forming the government. We don’t want to make promises on caste or promise freebies. Our line is to give people what they want. Goans have not demanded free electricity. They have demanded to be free of pollution, and only the Congress is talking about it.”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)