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Shifting sands to loyalty pledges: Goa set for multi-party contest, hard choice

For ruling BJP, first state poll without Parrikar; up against Cong, AAP, TMC

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: February 13, 2022 3:52:25 pm
Union Home Minister Amit Shah during a election campaign rally for Goa assembly polls, at Bicholim in Goa, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Hours before campaign guns fell silent Saturday in Goa, Uttarakhand and nine districts of Uttar Pradesh which will vote Monday, candidates and their supporters raced against time to knock on doors one final time to mobilise votes.

In Goa, where a multi-party contest has even drawn a party from the country’s eastern shores, and the shifting sands have had the AAP and Congress banking on loyalty pledges, 40 seats are for the picking.

An electorate of 11,64,522 voters will decide the fate of 301 candidates in the smallest state. For the ruling BJP, this is its first Assembly election after the death of Manohar Parrikar. It is up against the AAP, Delhi’s ruling party, taking a second shot at power; a beleaguered Congress; new entrant TMC which came with much fanfare, only to see its leader Mamata Banerjee disappear once the elections were announced. And, of course, the bit players who end up having a key role in making and breaking governments.

There’s something in the air that’s keeping everyone on the edge. After the campaign ended at 6 pm, Congress leaders made a dash to the Chief Electoral Officer to file a complaint against an alleged ‘sting operation’ by a Hindi channel that claimed some of the party’s candidates had accepted money to defect to the BJP after the election. The TMC, too, filed a similar complaint late at night.

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A week ago, 37 candidates of the Congress and three of its ally Goa Forward Party swore by the Constitution not to defect if elected. They even put it down in affidavits in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, so that he could deliver these to Sonia Gandhi.

And in the final countdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent the temperature soaring when he targeted the Congress and the Gandhi family, accusing Jawaharlal Nehru of delaying Goa’s liberation by nearly 15 years in order to protect his global image of a peacenik.

On the ground, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who took over the top job after the death of Parrikar, has been leading the BJP charge.

ontesting from his seat Sanquelim for the third time, the 48-year-old’s leadership is also being put to test this election. Although he says he is sure to return as CM, this election is quite unlike the last one for his party. It is contesting all the 40 seats for the first time.

Unlike 2017 when with the help of regional allies and independents, the BJP formed the government despite winning only 13 seats, the party has set its sight on winning a majority on its own with the slogan of “Baavisant Baavis plus (In 2022, 22 plus)”.

The party lost four sitting MLAs including minister Michael Lobo to other parties ahead of the election and dropped four sitting MLAs who were among the 12 who defected to the BJP from Congress and MGP in 2019. However, the party also inducted “winnable” candidates from other parties and independent sitting MLAs to build its formation.

This is also the first election that the BJP is contesting after the death of Parrikar. While he has featured on the party’s campaign flyers and every speech including that of Modi, his son Utpal, who was denied an election ticket, is now an independent candidate, determined to defeat the BJP in Panaji.

The AAP, meanwhile, is hoping to make a splash with a slew of promises, including a Chief Minister from the numerically strong Bhandari community. A state where election campaigns have steered clear of religious or caste planks, the AAP’s strategy remains to be tested. Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has said the party is open to a post-poll alliance with non-BJP party should the need arise.

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress arrived in Goa with political strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC. While Banerjee made two trips to Goa, formalised an alliance with MGP, Goa’s oldest regional force, interacted with people and political leaders in the state, she remained absent after the announcement of the election.

Both AAP and the TMC have had to battle the “outsider” perception that weighs heavily on the Goan voter.

Hansel Vaz, a businessman from Margao, said, “This time the election is the loudest we have seen, but the voters are silent. Every election in Goa attracts national attention since Goa is a harbinger state. Parrikar used to call it a lucky charm. It’s a small state but it’s the voice of the educated class.”

Lawyer Shailendra Bhobe, who votes in the Taleigao constituency, said, “This time the election is too unpredictable. It is not an easy election to call. That is mainly because of the mix of people and also the rise in the number of candidates contesting the election. There are 13 candidates in one constituency and for a small place like Goa that’s a big number. Earlier, there would be Congress, BJP, MGP and most people knew who the contest was between. This is what is very different about this election.”

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