The BJP’s efforts to stabilise its state government in Goa by inducting two MLAs of its ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) appears to have jeopardised its Lok Sabha campaign. The election to the North Goa and South Goa parliamentary seats is to be held alongside three Assembly bypolls on April 23.
The BJP’s disgruntled ally MGP has entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress and has asked its conservative Hindu support base to back the Congress Lok Sabha candidates in return for Congress’s support in Shiroda bypolls for Deepak Dhavalikar, the brother of MGP chief Sudin Dhavalikar, who was dropped as Deputy CM after two MGP MLAs joined the BJP.
Deepak is up against candidates of the BJP and the Congress, which had announced its candidate before finalising the arrangement with the MGP.
A close fight is expected in South Goa. With AAP expected to split the Congress votes, the latter can expect some relief as the MGP has asked its supporters to vote for Congress candidate Francis Sardinha instead of the BJP’s Narendra Sawaikar.
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In North Goa, Congress candidate Girish Chodankar, who is raising the mining issue, appears to have an edge over sitting BJP MP Shripad Naik. On Sunday, Chodankar told reporters, “The Congress will win the April 23 Lok Sabha elections in the two seats.”
The current political turmoil goes back to the point early this year when MGP, still an ally of BJP, announced that it will field Deepak as its candidate in the Shiroda Assembly bypoll.
The seat is being contested by Congress defector Subash Shirodkar on a BJP ticket and former BJP minister Mahadev Naik on a Congress ticket. The MGP was opposed to the BJP poaching Congress MLAs and had gone to court in 2018 against this. With the court not finding merit in their petition, the party finally decided to contest the election against its ally.
The BJP, fearing that the MGP will support Congress if it wins the Shiroda bypolls and possibly try to topple the government, poached two MGP MLAs. Both the BJP and Congress now have 14 MLAs in the Assembly.
Meanwhile, these political calculations and decisions have left the 28,000 voters in Shiroda confused.
“This changes everything,” says a Congress supporter in Shiroda. “Instead of a Congress replacement, they have brought in a former BJP face.”
Last time, Mahadev Naik lost to Shirodkar, then with the Congress.
While a section of Congress workers are supporting Deepak, another continues to campaign for Shirodkar, an old Congress hand, said the Congress supporter.
Deepak Dhavlikar is urging voters in Shiroda to “not vote for candidates who jump parties”. Shirodkar, on the other hand, is projecting himself as the lone Bahujan in the contest and pointing out that the MGP, which represents Bahujans, is led by the Brahmin Dhavalikar brothers.
On ground, the buzz is that “the lion (the MGP symbol) is leading”. While the vote is for Deepak, it’s the trust on Sudin that seems to be the key factor.
Sudin, an MLA from the neighbouring constituency of Marcaim, is seen as someone who delivers on the promise of government jobs for Bahujan candidates.
At a watch repair shop, the men have a simple story. While most of them are staunch BJP supporters, they have not forgotten the events of the night of March 27, when two MGP MLAs defected to BJP. “You cannot humiliate a friend for two men who jump parties. It doesn’t suit the BJP. In this election, the electors will replicate the politics of the state. They too will play games,” says a man who has always voted for BJP, but says that the party has lost his vote this time.
At the fish market, a fisherman says the BJP might have it tough in Goa as the mining issue remains to be addressed.
Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha campaign in the state ended on Sunday with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, saying, “Voters are not going to forgive MGP for their alliance with Congress. They are watching.”