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Goa Assembly Elections Primer: Amid defections, shifting alliances, state heads for high-voltage polls

With both the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition Congress struggling to put their act together and new players entering the already-crowded battlefield, the 14 February Goa Assembly elections would be an unprecedented affair

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: January 9, 2022 9:52:15 am
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. (Twitter/Pramod Sawant)

Even by the standards of Goa’s volatile, multi-party politics, the 14 February election to the 40-member state Assembly is set to be an unprecedented battle.

As Goa, India’s smallest state, gears up to elect its eighth Legislative Assembly since it was accorded statehood in 1987, the battlefield, which has already become crowded, is getting increasingly more unpredictable, with the game of defections and shifting political alliances playing out in full swing.

The ruling BJP’s campaign is being spearheaded by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who took over the reins after party stalwart and former CM Manohar Parrikar’s demise in 2019. In the previous Assembly polls in 2017, the BJP, despite being the ruling party, had won only 13 seats, with the principal Opposition Congress emerging as the single largest party with 17 seats. The BJP had then however managed to cobble up a ruling coalition with regional parties like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa Forward Party (GFP) and two independents, with Parrikar playing the key role in this exercise.

In 2019, the BJP ousted its alliance partners from the government when 10 Congress MLAs defected to its camp, giving it a comfortable majority number.

The BJP’s miffed former allies, the MGP and the GFP, have now forged new alliances for the upcoming polls, with the MGP tying up with a new entrant into the Goa fray, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), while the GFP has allied with the Congress, which also seems to be looking to get the NCP and the Shiv Sena as part of its coalition.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is another player, which, like the TMC, has launched an aggressive, high-voltage campaign in the run-up to the polls in the coastal state.

The TMC had on Friday even floated a proposal for a larger alliance of the Opposition parties to take on the BJP, expressing its willingness to join hands with the Congress and other parties. The Congress was however not enthused by this proposal. Senior Congress leader and party observer for the Goa polls P Chidambaram has accused the TMC and the AAP of “fracturing” the anti-BJP votes, maintaining that only his party had the capacity to defeat the BJP in Goa.

A look at 2017 Assembly Elections

Rising from the BJP’s ranks, Sawant is hopeful of returning as the CM if the BJP is re-elected to power but the saffron party has several aspirants for the job, including three ministers in Sawant’s cabinet, political sources said. The BJP has also been grappling with various challenges besides the anti-incumbency factor. A number of claimants have been vying to corner party tickets.

Hopeful of getting a BJP ticket is also Parrikar’s son Utpal Parrikar, who has staked his claim on his father’s traditional seat, Panaji. For this seat, the BJP now has to choose between Utpal and the sitting MLA Atanasio Monserrate, who had defected to the ruling party from the Congress with nine other legislators including his wife Jennifer Monserrate.

So far, the BJP has lost two MLAs, one each to the Congress and the AAP, and has inducted one legislator each from the Congress and the GFP ahead of the polls. Speculation over the exit of Ports Minister Micheal Lobo from the BJP gathered steam as he began campaigning without a party symbol and has kept everyone guessing about his next move.

The Congress, which had failed to form the government in 2017 despite being short of just 4 MLAs from the simple majority mark, has seen its legislators’ tally drop to just 2, with 2 MLAs switching to the TMC and one to the BJP in recent weeks. The grand old party, which has a traditional support base in the state, seems to be struggling to put its act together with its prospects being dented by the influx of several Opposition players into the fray.

Meanwhile, a regional outfit Revolutionary Goans (RG) has been registered as a state political party, involving the youths from the Bahujan communities of Goa. With an “anti-migrant” plank, its rallies held by party leader Manoj Parad have seen huge turnouts over the last few months.

The upcoming elections amid the raging third wave of the Covid pandemic would be a challenging affair, with Goa now registering a weekly positivity rate of 13 per cent. The state government has restricted indoor venues to 50 per cent capacity and outdoor gatherings to not more than 100 persons until 26 January.

The Issues that are likely to dominate the poll campaigns of different political parties include environment protection, linear projects cutting through the Mollem forest, the question of reviving mining, Covid management, diversion of Mhadei river water to Karnataka, recruitment in government jobs, and rising prices of commodities.

According to Goa’s revised electoral rolls, there are 11,56,464 voters in the state, of which 5,62,500 are male and 5,93,960 are female and four have registered themselves as third gender. The average electorate size per Assembly constituency in the state is 28,912, according to the Chief Election Officer.

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