Digambar Kamat receives you in the unlikeliest of places. For a state whose VIPs make no bones about flaunting lifestyle,the CM himself lives in a modest first-floor flat in the part-commercial,part-rundown quarter of Margao,his home constituency. (His son lives elsewhere in the well-appointed ancestral bungalow. But unlike the late Comrade Jyoti Basu,the CM hasnt formally moved in with the businessman son yet.) For now austerity is intact.
Kamat receives visitors in his two-room,street-side campaign office right below his flat. To understate power further,a couple of security men crouch out of view under the stairway.
The building itself,Kamat explains,was developed when he was running a real estate business before he entered politics as councillor in the local municipality. Since then he has come a long way with just one flip-flop from the Congress to the BJP and back to run a full chief ministerial term,the first since Goan statehood in 1987. Would this unusually long incumbency put off voters? Not with all the work that went into the full tenure. He reels off the ratings his government received from travel mags to TV channels in health,education,women empowerment,family tourism…
When you raise the inevitable issue of mining,Kamat explains how he has done more than anyone else to check illegal extraction and quickly checks himself. I am campaigning on a positive note. His loyalists (personal more than political) fill you in on the rest,which is what matters. Kamats main rival is his own party. Thanks to the high command,four families have cornered between them all of 11 seats and one from ally NCP. Rahul Gandhi apparently did the least meddling. He made a few suggestions and got no pushier than that.
Twelve out of 40,which is the strength of the Assembly,is indeed the lions share and there is no telling which way the lion would leap once the verdict is out on March 6. Worse,the familial bunch at least for now is more inclined to back Pratapsinh Rane for chief ministership. Kamats sole comfort is that Rane himself is facing quite a challenge in Poriem,the bastion that stood by him every time in the last nine polls. The well-nursed Margao is a surer bet for Kamat but he is taking no chances. Through a long evening,you see him walking into every lane and sub-lane of a sizable slum in Moti Dongar,which a BJP worker calls Kamats cattle pound. An obvious reference to some 4,000 Muslim voters there. But you find a visible presence of Hindus with a Shiv Mandir in place. On the Mahashivratri evening,as the candidate is legging it up along the mud tracks,the temple loudspeaker is airing a chant in repetitive loops. Kamats own silent prayer would be for a good win for himself and for the party a calibrated one,which gives him enough room to wiggle.