News Analysis | BJP’s ‘winnability’ strategy will be put to test in Goa Assembly election

BJP leader Arun Singh and BJP Goa election in-charge Devendra Fadnavis announce the list of party candidates for Goa assembly polls, at BJP HQ in New Delhi recently.

With the filing of nominations for the Goa Assembly election concluding on January 28, all parties are gearing up for the final sprint before the coastal State goes to the polls on February 14.

The ruling BJP’s strategy for the election has been marked by cold pragmatism. From keeping up a sustained ‘charm offensive’ to dissuade stalwart Congressman Pratapsingh Rane from contesting the Poriem seat to denying Utpal Parrikar a ticket, ‘winnability’ has been the saffron party’s watchword to fulfil its stated objective of “winning 22 plus seats (in the 40-seat Assembly) in the 2022 election.”

As effusive tributes from the Congress – and BJP leaders – poured in across Goa’s political spectrum for Mr. Rane on the occasion of his 83rd birthday on Friday, it was a bittersweet moment for the Congress, given that the former Chief Minister – who has been the coastal State’s longest-serving Chief Minister (serving no less than six terms) – has backed out from contesting from Poriem, a Congress bastion.

The Poriem seat (which was Sattari until 1989) has been held by Mr. Rane a record 11 times since 1972.

Mr. Rane’s backing-off from the poll fray forced a beleaguered Goa Congress to field last-minute candidate Ranjit Rane from Poriem, who will be facing the BJP’s Deviya Rane, wife of the senior Rane’s son, BJP leader and Goa Health Minister Viswajit Rane.

Shrewd campaign

The BJP’s Goa election in-charge Devendra Fadnavis, who has orchestrated a shrewd campaign for the saffron party, had met the octogenarian Congressman at his residence in September last year reportedly to discourage him from contesting Poriem.

While Mr. Fadnavis’ revelation of this matter earlier this month prompted a sharp rebuttal from Mr. Rane, the BJP has doubtless scored a coup in Poriem by getting the veteran Congressman (one of the two MLAs the Congress currently has in Goa) not to fight the election.

Earlier this month, the Pramod Sawant -led BJP government had even felicitated Mr. Rane with a ‘lifetime Cabinet rank’ in recognition of 50 years as an MLA and his contributions to the State.

On the other hand, the Goa BJP, despite its oft-repeated statements of carrying forward the late Manohar Parrikar’s legacy, showed no sentiment while denying Utpal Parrikar the ticket from Panaji as it believes he does not have the necessary ‘voter connect’ to win the Panaji seat. It has instead favoured a Congress defector and history-sheeter, Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate – the incumbent Panaji MLA.

The party also dropped two Cabinet-rank Ministers (Deepak Pauskar and Filipe Nery Rodrigues), but retained scam-tainted Milind Naik on account of his apparent ‘winnability’. Likewise, the saffron party snubbed loyalists such as ex-BJP Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar (denying him the Mandrem ticket) and Union Minister Shripad Naik by denying his son, Siddhesh, ticket.

In fact, the BJP’s strategy and candidate selection reveals the increasing weightage of Atanasio Monserrate.

Mr. Monserrate, who was responsible for bringing in 10 Congress MLAs (including himself and his wife Jennifer Monserrate) into the BJP fold in 2019, has been responsible for ensuring no less than four tickets in the list and for some of the party’s hard decisions.

It was Mr. Monserrate’s allegations against party colleague, PWD minister Deepak Pauskar, that made the saffron party leadership drop the latter.

Surprise move

Again, despite the perception that the BJP was consolidating the Hindu bloc in Goa by sidelining minorities, the party has surprised its detractors by fielding no less than nine Catholic Christian candidates – more than what Mr. Parrikar had done in both the 2012 (six Catholic candidates from the BJP) and 2017 Assembly election (eight minority candidates).

At the same time, the BJP’s fire-fighting has only been partially successful: while it has managed to retain Siddhesh Naik – the son of Shripad Naik – by making him a general secretary of the Goa BJP, Mr. Parsekar, Mr. Pauskar and Mr. Utpal Parrikar have all raised the banner of revolt by contesting as independents.

Yet, despite Mr. Sawant’s government being battered by anti-incumbency, the saffron party faces a severely divided Opposition.

Despite a promising start, the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC already appears to have lost momentum, plagued by last-minute exits and being left with virtually no candidate of name in the poll fray at present except its Goa unit chief Kiran Kandolkar.

Last month, ex- MLA Lavoo Mamledar, who was one of the first Goan leaders to join the TMC, quit the party in disgust, calling it “more communal than the BJP.” Then, ex-Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lorenco, too, quit the TMC weeks after he joined the party that is promising Goans a ‘new dawn’ to be followed by Yatish Naik, general secretary of the TMC’s Goa unit. A further blow came when former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, the TMC’s national vice-president, formally announced that he would not be contesting the polls as he had been upset with the party brass’s decision to field him from Fatorda.

“The TMC appears to have entered Goa with no concrete strategy…its modus operandi has merely been poaching and more poaching. Furthermore, the leaders whom it poached from other parties like Mr. Faleiro and Churchill Alemao are well past their political prime,” said analyst and academic Manoj Kamat.

Likewise, the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP, despite its exuberant promises of overthrowing the ‘corrupt older order,’ facing an uphill task in supplanting known candidates with its fresh faces in tiny Goan constituencies where the electorate size ranges from 19,000-35,000 voters.

The Shiv Sena and the NCP, which are fighting jointly, have no significant presence in the State.

This leaves the only serious challenger to the BJP in the form of the Congress. According to observers, the Congress, which has given tickets to more than 25 new faces, may have moved too cautiously for its own good. However, to its credit, it has acquired some disgruntled BJP leaders such as Michael Lobo, who is looking to win all four seats in the Bardez area.

“The Congress, despite emerging as the single-largest party in the 2017 Goa election by winning 17 seats, lost 15 of its MLAs to other parties, mainly the BJP. This time, it is banking too much on the alleged anti-incumbency of the saffron party to win votes. It has not declared a Chief Ministerial face and may have moved too slowly in seizing the initiative in key constituencies,” said another Goa-based analyst.

At the end of the day, despite the non-BJP Opposition promising a renewed Goa by urging people to vote for new candidates, the play has largely revolved around the same ‘old faces’, some to be found in different parties perhaps.

Political analyst Cleofato Coutinho noted that the BJP stood to benefit in an overcrowded opposition field.

“While corruption and land problems remain surface issues, voting in Goa ultimately revolves around known personalities, be it a Monserrate or a Michael Lobo. So, while some parties make a big deal of ‘experimentation’ with new faces, it remains to be seen how much of an impact they can really make,” he says.

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Printable version | May 6, 2022 9:06:24 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/goa-assembly/news-analysis-bjps-winnability-strategy-will-be-put-to-test-in-goa-assembly-election/article38344005.ece