On the last day of campaigning for Panaji Assembly seat — left vacant by late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar — former RSS Goa chief Subhash Velingkar was confident of his sole mission, to “finish the BJP in Goa”. Velingkar (70), who was responsible for the BJP’s inroads in Goa and mentoring Parrikar in the 1980s, had rebelled and founded Goa Surakasha Manch (GSM), backed by an RSS faction which separated.
While the fight for Panaji is a four-cornered one — between the BJP, Congress, AAP and him — Velingkar believes it has boiled down to a face-off between two candidates — him and Congress’s Atanasio Monserrate.
Ending his campaign at the Catholic-dominant neighbourhood of Ribander, with karyakartas assembling outside Ribander Church, Velingkar says, “The biggest advantage is Catholics have decided to support me. In Goa, the RSS is cultivated different from the rest of the country…Also our ancestry, before the Portuguese arrived and converted, was the same. The DNA is same.”
While his manifesto reflects many issues Panaji citizens face, he says the larger fight is to enter the Assembly and be the voice that “questions both Congress and BJP”.
Across the campaign trail, voters know Velingkar. Xavier, a Portuguese passport holder, welcomes him with a smile, Lucy wonders if he can resolve her wild tree problem, and Messias Taveras feels government jobs “not coming to the minority” is a big problem. Sacrament Rodriques says no party thinks of senior citizens left behind by children with Portugese passports.
Velingkar hears them all, and says he needs one chance. Since 1994, the seat always been occupied by Parrikar. Union minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday pointed to Velingkar’s foray into politics and candidature as a decision to split BJP votes.
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“I am winning,” a confident Velingkar asserts. He explains, “BJP candidate Siddharth Kunkolienkar was backed by Parrikar and is now running on his favours. He was imposed on the party, which refused a ticket to Parrikar’s son Utpal. Many of his supporters are physically with him, but mentally with me. How then can I be splitting votes of BJP?”
He added, “The non-BJP votes which went to AAP instead of Congress in the last few elections now have an alternate party.”
On the campaign trail, the group bumps into Congress’s Monserrate. Velingkar admits Monserrate is a challenger, “even though he too is imposed in the Congress though he is an outsider”. Velingkar says the BJP is the most vulnerable in Goa this term, with “their vendetta to remain at any cost proving to be difficult for everyone”.
In Goa, he says, the narrative is different, with his supporters reaching out to Muslims and Catholics in the last few months. “Here we are trying to reach out and say Hindutva is not a religion….We are trying to break religious barriers here and start preaching patriotism as only then can you rise together for the nation. We do not have to believe in violence for that approach. Goa will show the way,” he adds.
At the end of the campaign, several pamphlets have been shed. “Vote for GSM. We are not going to jump parties or join anyone,” says Velingkar, who believes that is the biggest promise to win people in a state where most MLAs defect after coming into power.