When 28-year-old Viresh Borkar, the youngest legislator from Goa’s youngest political party, the Revolutionary Goans (RG), reached the Legislative Assembly for his swearing-in earlier this week riding pillion on a motorbike, he signalled a definite change in the tenor of Goan politics.
First-time MLA Mr. Borkar and the rider of the motorbike, RG party chief and ex-Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member Tukaram ‘Manoj’ Parab, are determined to sweep away the old, corrupt order of Goan politics.
The centrepiece of the party’s poll campaign was its promise to get the POGO (Person of Goan Origin) Bill passed in the Goa Legislature and give Goans their rights by focusing on jobs, government schemes, land and housing board projects.
The RG stunned established political parties and observers with its impressive performance in the results to the 40-seat Goa Assembly election by opening their account and snaring more than 9.5% of the total vote share.
By that metric, the party, in its political debut, came third after the Bharatiya Janata Party (33% of the vote share) and the Congress (23%) and left the Trinamool Congress (5.21%) and even the AAP (6.67%) — which won two seats — in the shade.
The RG’s ‘wild card’ performance was astounding by any standards, given that the outfit was written off by nearly everyone except the most astute observer. While some did point out the party’s canny, cost-effective campaigns through Facebook and other social media platforms and the emotive appeal of its issues, few dared to venture the impact that the RG would have after counting ended on March 10.
The party, which was allotted the ‘football’ election symbol less than two months before the February 14 election, has now set itself the ambitious target of securing 3.5 lakh votes in the 2027 election.
“People want us to get into the system, to take up issues that really matter…the panches and sarpanches have destroyed Goa by allowing voting rights for migrants and permitting the cutting of hills,” says 37-year-old Mr. Parab.
Often likened to a Goan version of the early Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the RG, with its regionalist “son of the soil” agenda, has proved in this election that it has substantial support in the huge Goan migrant population in neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka, especially among the Goans settled abroad.
Its stated objective of protecting Goan identity, culture, nature and heritage from the ‘ravages’ of migrants has grabbed the attention of the Goan electorate, particularly the youth, in a manner that few political parties did.
Mr. Parab disagrees with comparisons though, stressing that the RG has never resorted to violence, unlike its Maharashtrian counterparts, to achieve its ends.
According to observers, the party and its youthful candidates, with their limited resources make a refreshing contrast to the crorepati candidates from the older Goan parties — be it the BJP, the Congress, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party or the TMC.
“The RG’s projection as a puritan force cleansing the accumulated stink of Goa’s politics has strongly resonated with the electorate. Mr. Parab’s passionate appeals through Facebook to fund his outfit, which is described as a ‘non-political one’ on the party’s website, has given the impression that this is an honest party that is trying to do something sincerely for the Goan people,” says an analyst.
Mr. Borkar opened his party’s account by winning the St. Andre seat by just 76 votes in a humdinger of a contest. More importantly, the RG cannibalised votes in an already overcrowded opposition to hit the Congress hard, and indirectly benefit the BJP.
Yet the saffron party leaders have said that the RG has hit their candidates in some seats as well, notably in Mandrem, where incumbent MLA Dayanand Sopte lost by a thin margin of 715 votes, while the RG’s Sunanda Gayade got 1,219 votes.
In Saleigao, former MLA Jayesh Salgaonkar, touted as the favourite, suffered an upset defeat by 1,899 votes — almost the difference in the votes polled by the RG’s Rohan Kalangutkar (1,928 votes).
In Thivim, where the TMC was hoping to open account, the party’s best bet Kavita Kandolkar — wife of TMC State chief Kiran Kandolkar — lost by 2,051 votes. Her pitch was queered by Mr. Parab himself, who bagged 5,051 votes.
The MGP, projected as a ‘kingmaker’ by exit polls, suffered at the hands of the RG as well, as MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar, brother of Sudin Dhavalikar, lost the Priol seat by a wafer-thin margin of just over 200 votes to the BJP’s Govind Gaude. The spoiler was the RG’s Vishwesh Naik, who polled 2,517 votes.
The RG’s Sanquelim candidate left caretaker CM Pramod Sawant gasping for breath, with Mr. Sawant beating his nearest rival — the Congress’ Dharmesh Saglani — by barely 666 votes. The RG’s Sujay Gauns polled 742 votes.
The RG, according to a long-time election watcher, has stepped into the space created by the decline of other homegrown outfits such as the Vijai Sardesai-led Goa Forward Party, that had been formed with similar aims of preserving Goan ethos and identity.
He also points out to the fact that the RG has sprouted in Salcette area (where Mr. Borkar won the St. Andre seat), where voters are more ‘swayed’ by emotive issues than other districts in the State.
Salcette, which was part of the Velhas Conquistas (the areas conquered by the Portuguese in the early 16th century) districts, has usually been the incubation for new parties, ideas and slogans as opposed to the districts under the Novas Conquistas (‘new conquests’), which have usually been with the MGP or the BJP, given that they adjoin Maharashtra’s Konkan province and the pro-Marathi issue is vibrant there.
“The question is: will the RG supplant the older regional parties of Goa or will its success prove a mere flash in the pan in the long run? One must remember that the MNS had created a big splash when it was formed, playing ‘kingmaker’ in the Maharashtra Assembly and gaining early success in the Nashik and Pune civic bodies. But, then, the party soon fizzled out,” says the analyst.