The beach haven, western state of Goa is set to go to polls in little under a month, on February 4, with 40 seats to be contested. Five years ago in 2012, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), along with Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) won a clear majority – which elected Manohar Parrikar as the state’s chief minister. Parrikar’s services were however requisitioned as the new Defence Minister in a Union cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leading to the appointment of his successor Laxmikant Parsekar as Chief Minister on November 8, 2014.
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As the incumbent, BJP – unlike its primary position in the other four election bound states – is under pressure to retain power which is being challenged by the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Congress and a three-party alliance between Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) rebel Subhash Velingkar’s Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), Shiv Sena and Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP). MGP, which has had a five-year-old alliance with the BJP in power, announced on Thursday that it would be breaking ranks to join hands with Velingkar’s GSM.
Among various stands that political aspirants must declare prior to the elections, mining is arguably the most sensitive one. The state of Goa is the third largest producer of iron ore in India and conversely mining has made a vital contribution to its economy and provided employment to the locals. However, in the first decade of 2000s, unprecedented mining activities, often with political collusion, led to several environmental and legal violations. All mining was shut down by the government in September 2012 following public protests and setting up of a judicial commission, which estimated a staggering drain of Rs 34,935 crore from the public exchequer owing to illegal mining. It has recently reopened amid a resource crunch with the aim to increase exports. Political power aspirants now must balance the concerns of those who are concerned about the environment and those who represent the mining industry.
Casinos and culture protectionism are two other issues close to the heart of many Goans. Goa has five offshore casinos and nearly a dozen onshore casinos. Prior to coming to power in 2012, BJP had demanded and promised to close down casinos in its election manifesto by putting a halt to casino license renewals. Its post-win period was, however, marked by frequent flip-flopping and postponing of the issue. More recently it has been accused of favoring the casino industry, which many locals see as dens of corruption that mostly employ outsiders (non-Goans). Its turncoat image is likely to be an easy bait for the other contenders, especially AAP — which has been projected as a forerunner in the state by the recent opinion polls.
There is also the question of protecting local culture, i.e. the controversial question of which language – Konkani, Marathi or English – should be the medium of teaching in primary schools, and the changing demographic profile of the state. The movement for special state status for Goa – is an emotional issue for many, which they feel is a cause that neither Congress nor the BJP took heed of while in power. All these are opportunities that AAP, as the fresh entrant in the race, has been vibrantly campaigning for and making promises about — in addition to its special focus on the Catholic demographic which forms about 26 per cent of Goan population.
Date of voting: 4th February
Date of counting completion: 15th March
No. of seats in the Unicameral Legislature: 40
Ruling party: BJP (MGP has pulled out of government)
Chief Minister: Laxmikant Parsekar