For someone who is the first BJP chief minister to avowedly support the Gujarat CM’s candidature for the prime minister’s post, who, like the latter, rides high on the development discourse and is known to display a similar autocratic strain in his functioning, Manohar Parrikar’s campaigns in Goa’s Salcette taluka has conspicuously muted the Narendra Modi rhetoric.
Unlike the rest of Goa, where the NaMo mantra is being chanted with alacrity, in Salcette, the BJP’s campaign has made a marked shift to talking about the state government’s record in maintaining secularism than the Modi factor. Campaigning extensively in Salcette, Parrikar has, of late, adopted the refrain, “Two BJP MPs from Goa do not make any difference to the formation of the government at the Centre but they will do a lot to Goa’s development.” These words, as Parrikar admits to The Indian Express, “are a reaction to the recent campaign by the clergy that has created an apprehension in the minds of people in South Goa”.
The conscious dissociation by the state’s BJP government from the national saffron identity is the outcome of recent stirrings in the state. Its electorate of 10.59 lakh is spread over two Lok Sabha constituencies — the BJP-ruled Hindu majority of North Goa and the Congress bastion of South Goa with a significant Catholic population mainly concentrated in Salcete taluka. The taluka comprises eight of the total 20 assembly seats in South Goa, but accounts for more than 48 per cent of the voters in the Lok Sabha constituency. Parrikar knows that whoever gets a lead in Salcete has traditionally ruled Goa. The state goes to polls on April 12.
The Roman Catholic Church wields considerable sway over the community that constitutes a third of Goa’s population. Last month, the church’s social wing, the Council for Social Justice and Peace, issued an advisory warning the community against “communal forces”. This was followed by Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman issuing a circular emphasising the need to vote for candidates who uphold the secular fabric. While neither of the advisories name any party, the Congress is using these to bolster its case in South Goa.
The recent shift to the secularism pitch in Salcette has seen Parrikar sharing the podium with Catholic and Muslim BJP leaders who remind the minorities how the government spent for the decennial exposition of Goa’s patron saint St Francis Xavier in 2013. “How can we be communal when we have six Catholic MLAs and the backing of four others?,” asked Parrikar. In the week running up to the polls, he will address eight public meetings in North Goa and 16 in South, most of these in Salcette.
If past trends are anything to go by, the BJP’s damage-control mode is not an over-reaction. Before the 2012 Assembly polls, the CSJP had issued a note asking people to weed out corruption, in an apparent reference to the Congress government facing charges of mining scam. That year, the Congress, which had ruled Goa for nine terms, lost for the second time to the BJP.
“The BJP knows that the community would pay heed to the Church and has started realigning its campaign to project a minority-friendly government — a campaign centered more around Parrikar’s work than on Modi,” observed Goa’s former election commissioner Prabhakar Timble.