GOA on Saturday looked set to have the highest ever voter turnout in the country, with estimates indicating it would surpass Puducherry’s 83 per cent by end of counting. With 17 political parties and 251 candidates, including 58 Independents, in fray for the 40-seat Assembly, this is the toughest political fight the state has seen.
Though voting was a bit slow in the initial hours, it soon picked up pace, and by 5 pm itself, the provisional polling figures had touched 83 per cent, its 2012 polls figure (including postal ballots). Pondicherry’s 83 per cent did not include postol ballots.
The Chief Electoral Office has recommended repolling in one booth of roughly 800 voters in Margao constituency after technical glitches with one EVM during mock poll.
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Rebel RSS leader Subash Velingkar was among the first to cast his vote, at 7 am. “It has been my tradition. Never once have I been late (voting),” he said. Velingkar said the long polling queues showed that their expectations of a BJP defeat would be proved right. “I can sense the cadre with me is jubilant. There is a lot of scope. Expectations from our end are high.”
Velingkar’s Goa Surakshan Manch has fielded 33 candidates in an alliance with the Maharashtra Gomantak Party and Shiv Sean.
Incidentally, as Velingkar was exiting his booth, in walked Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar who, the BJP has hinted, may return as chief minister if the party came back to power. Velingkar said he “didn’t even look at him. There was no need.”
Parrikar asserted the BJP would return with a “two-third majority”, taking a jibe at the other parties as he said, “the other three corners are weak”. When a reporter asked if he still preferred Goan fish curry over butter chicken, hinting that he was set to trade Delhi for Panaji, Parrikar said, “See, I have lost 4 kg in Delhi. The main reason is food.” Prodded again, he said, “I have not said anything, I have said that ‘Mujhe Goa ka khana achcha lagta hai. Aapko us se jo matlab nikalna hai, nikalo (I like Goa food. Make what you will of that)’.”
All the Congress’s CM probables, including Pratapsingh Rane, Luizinho Faleiro (the face of the party campaign), Ravi Nayak, and Digambar Kamat, also voted early, by 9 am.
Arvind Kejriwal, who led the AAP campaign, stayed in Delhi on Saturday, tweeting from there, “Goa and Punjab will create history today.”
AAP candidate for Panjim Valmiki Naik called the day the finale of a long campaign “to uproot the BJP and Congress”. “Today so many voters stopped me on roads, called out to me. Till yesterday, we were talking to them, today it felt like reverse communication as they wanted to talk to us, spread their excitement of voting. In Panjim itself, we have a 10 per cent rise in first-time voters and it felt good to see them support the AAP,” he said.
Naik said the rise in the voting percentage this year could also be attributed to AAP volunteers, “who have gone all out to reach the people”.
AAP candidates visited booths to encourage voters, including ‘Supermom’ Cecille Rodriques. The mother of a six-year-old, Rodriques is a familiar face in Goa after she won a televised dance competition for mothers.
Rodriques is starring in a film, playing the daughter of a drug mafiosi, which will be released this year. “I will soon have to campaign for the film too, but this is new to me, and I have a social responsibility here. I decided it was time for a change for Goans,” she added.
While voters standing in queues at booth after booth said their main concern was jobs, Martha Afonso, 70, said, “Do not forget, we also want a people-friendly government. We are a peaceful lot. We don’t want the kinds who create rifts, or any fights among us. We hear a lot of things happening across the country. Goa is not ready for such news.”
At another booth, Neil Ribeiro, 43, said the election would not be decided by freebies (the AAP has promised cheap fish, the BJP free Wi-Fi broadband, and the Congress many monetary schemes). “It will be (decided by talk of) serious development. We have issues that most states face, be it garbage management or public transport. The manifestos promise many things but there is no comprehensive plan to take everyone along,” he said. Pointing to youths in the queue, he added, “Where are the employment opportunities?”
Because of the Supreme Court order on illegal mining, the main employment-generating industry of the state is shut, while tourism remains stagnant due to limited infrastructure.
Anthony Sequira, 72, a motorbike pilot heavily dependent on tourists, said, “No matter what people say, demonetisation affected us a lot. In a sector like tourism, cash really matters. The poor were badly hit. At least in Goa, this will show in the results.”