Goa elections: TMC, AAP sideshow, BJP, Congress main contenders

Goans sceptical of smaller parties as poll promises ring empty

Politics

November 6, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Goa elections: TMC, AAP sideshow, BJP, Congress main contenders

Mamata Banerjee's TMC party takes a stab at Goa (Photo: PTI)

Having landed to rather thin crowds and minimal support, Mamata Banerjee’s bid for Goa seems to have fallen short of TMC’s expectations, as Congress seems to have a leg up this time in elections after BJP’s failed promises anger locals.

In the lead-up to Goa’s Legislative Assembly elections, which will be held in February 2022, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last week embarked on a three-day visit to the coastal state, purportedly to establish TMC as the primary opponent to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Unsurprisingly, this decision was met with a bit of flak from not only members of the Indian National Congress (INC) party, but local Goans as well, who are still reeling from BJP’s unfulfilled promises during its reign since 2014, after former CM Digambar Kamat, member of Congress, passed the baton to late BJP leader Manohar Parrikar.

“To airdrop into Goa and think they could just take over the Congress space is ridiculous, especially since it is not even the TMC people who have had any proper discussions, it is being done by a consultancy group which understands very little of Goa, misled by Prashant Kishor into thinking they could just influence the Goan voter. You come and you think you can bring the same kind of things from a larger state and put them to use here, it doesn’t work. There is no connect with Mamata Banerjee, she might be a huge face in West Bengal but here she is just another, what they call political tourist,” Devika Sequeira, a journalist based in Goa, tells Media India Group.

Along with TMC, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is once again contending against the major players BJP and Congress for the 40 seats, and in a drastic attempt to sway traditional preferences, Kejriwal has been making loud campaign promises, like in July when he announced that every family would get 300 units of free electricity and in September, promising 80 pc reservation of jobs in the private sector for locals, dole for jobless youth and a monthly remuneration of INR 5,000 for families affected by closure of the iron ore mines and those hit by pandemic closures in the tourism sector. This is not a new strategy however, with similar promises touted by former Congress Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro nearly three decades ago, and do not seem to be working very well. Locals like Ashfaq Sani, a 25-year-old Goan resident, doubtful of such schemes considering the party’s poor performance so far.

“Even AAP does not really understand the issues here. An assembly election is not about Modi, it is about local issues, and the people are very angry at how this government has functioned. Since the pandemic, tourism has been in a mess and unemployment levels are very high, and it has just been making these huge promises, but none of them have been kept,” Sani tells Media India Group.

AAP, TMC try to entice Goan voters with local faces

Goan politics has always been notorious for MLAs’ penchant for party-hopping, and it seems to be happening once again, with prominent leaders like Faleiro leaving Congress to join TMC, presumably due to a guaranteed Rajya Sabha seat. This instability raises the question of whether 2017’s fiasco when even though the Congress emerged as the single largest party, the BJP formed the government and since then two-thirds of Congress MLAs have joined the BJP.

“AAP has some presence, but they have sort of whittled that away by making all the wrong decisions and putting up candidates that have no credibility, from other parties. They should have just stuck to people working with them, on the ground, at least they could have brought some change, but instead they are just importing people from other parties left right and centre, so that’s not a good strategy. Even TMC, so far, they really only have Luizinho Faleiro, nobody else, all the others have just gone probably where they might be getting heavier finance or whatever, but they count for nothing when it comes to elections, they count for nothing on their own,” says Sequeira.

In fact, both TMC and AAP seem to be making less headway in poaching members than last time. AAP tried and failed to convince local MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, whom the party wanted as a local face, to shift from Congress, and TMC was eventually unable to recruit Vijay Sardesai. INC seems to have learnt their lesson as well, with All India Congress Committee (AICC) Goa Congress desk in-charge, Dinesh Gundu Rao, issuing a clear warning that defectors will not be accepted back into the party.

“Sardesai was supposed to join TMC but he got an enormous backlash from his constituency, which stopped him in his tracks at the last minute, so they have realised the sentiment on the ground does not favour them joining these newbie parties who don’t have any proof they have done anything great for them to come to Goa,” explains Sequeira.

She also cites issues such as the poor handling of online education in rural areas, mishandled finances and massive environmental damage with the construction of railway and power lines across the state as evidence of the ruling party’s dismissive view of the state. In June 2021, despite having more than a year to prepare for the new online schooling system, 40 pc of villages in Sattair for example, a district of North Goa, were left without any connectivity.

“Goa is just being made into a corridor to link Maharashtra to Karnataka, and there are just these massive infrastructure projects that have been dumped on Goa which the local people don’t want, they resent it. Apart from that, people don’t have any jobs, mining has been stopped for three four years, and they put hardly any money into education. Kids couldn’t log on because they had no network in the villages. Instead, they are wasting money on these linear projects, like this huge railway line, the connect they are trying to make with these power lines, and it is going to cut through the Western Ghats and going to destroy a whole lot of protected forest areas, and does Goa really need all that?” Sequeira asks.

Can Mamata Banerjee’s campaign actually hurt minorities?

One of the main reasons of opposition against TMC coming in is the fear of dividing the field and in essence, helping the BJP cinch another win. Prior to her visit, several hoardings carrying pictures of Mamata Banerjee were defaced in Goa, and in response, she said she would not allow Dilli ki dadagiri (Centre’s bullying) to happen in the state. But like in the 2014 elections, the strength of the minority vote may be affected with too many cooks in the kitchen.

“A lot of people know that the BJP cannot win on its own, because there is a substantial minority vote here, 25 pc Christian, 8 pc Muslim, so the BJP needs these votes. [The Opposition] are fighting for the same secular vote so to speak, because AAP, INC, TMC are nowhere near the BJP in the Hindu-dominated constituencies,” says Sequeira.

Although both AAP and TMC have shown that they are capable of defeating BJP, especially with Banerjee’s major win against a tough Narendra Modi and Amit Shah offensive in West Bengal just months ago, Goans believe TMC’s strength may be better used elsewhere.

“In Tripura, there is a large presence of Bengalis, but in Goa, they are totally negligible. [Mamata Banerjee] doesn’t have any presence outside of West Bengal so here she is seen as a regional party from a very distinct state, just trying to muscle her way in,” says Sequeira.

Already, Banerjee has reportedly suggested that INC tie up with her party in Goa, and announced that TMC will contest all 51 seats in the Tripura municipal polls alone, the first time it will field candidates in an urban local body election outside West Bengal. The Northeastern state of Tripura, which is bordered on three sides by Bangladesh, has been in the grip of a spell of violence in the first few weeks of October, with Muslim homes and places of worship being targeted after the alleged violence against Hindus during Durga Puja in Bangladesh.

As for elections in February, it remains to be seen whether AAP can get enough of the vote share to claim their status as a national party alongside the big two, and whether Congress will be able to circumvent BJP’s tactics and use Goa’s minority vote to their advantage, or be derailed by a divide in their loyalties.

“I think Congress is sending out a clear message that they do mean business, and right now, unless the smaller parties tie up with them, there are only two parties in the contest: BJP and Congress,” says Sequeira.

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