That the 'Aya Ram Gaya Ram' culture is synonymous with politics in Goa is hardly news anymore. Regularly, there are news updates on politicians across the board switching parties, and making or breaking alliances as the state nears the 2022 assembly polls.
On 6 December, however, when the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) — one of Goa's oldest political outfits — entered into an alliance with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC), it surprised many, mostly because of the ideological distance between the two parties.
Earlier in August the MGP had hinted that an alliance with Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party was on the cards, and more recently meetings were held with the Congress leadership too.
In this piece, we will try to understand:
What does this alliance mean for the TMC and its anti-Hindutva stand?
Despite being an ideological twin and a long-term ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), what made MGP enter into an alliance with the TMC?
The Ideological Distance
The TMC, for long, has projected itself as an anti-thesis to BJP's Hindutva-centred politics. MGP in Goa, on the other hand, has over the years notoriously flirted with the ultra-conservative Hindu vote-bank, abandoned even by the BJP.
Tall leaders from the MGP such as Sudin Dhavalikar and Deepak Dhavalikar have publicly endorsed right-wing fringe organisations such as the Sanatan Sanstha. It is imperative to mention here that the Sanatan Sanstha has been chargesheeted in the Gauri Lankesh murder case.
In 2015, MGP's Deepak Dhavalikar contested against the ban on the outfit. "Just because one of the members is arrested in a murder case, why is there a demand to ban the entire organisation? Sanatan Sanstha works for spirituality and propagation of the Hindu religion," he had said. He further added that his wife regularly attends spiritual events organised by the outfit.
His elder brother Sudin Dhavalikar, a five-term MLA and former Public Works Department (PWD) Minister, also expressed public support for the outfit and said that the Sanstha has always been surrounded by controversies because of their "pro-Hindu" stance.
Since 2014, the Dhavalikar brothers have been demanding a ban on bikinis, miniskirts and pub culture in Goa. On multiple occasions, they have supported the idea of India being turned into a "Hindu nation." All of these are obvious attempts to capture the ultra-Hindu Goan vote bank.
This is in sharp contrast with the speeches made by TMC's MP and state-in-charge for Goa, Mahua Moitra, both inside and outside the Parliament.
"It'll be interesting to see what the TMC gains from this alliance. Ideologically, BJP is a more natural ally of MGP. Now, it seems that the new BJP leadership after (Manohar) Parrikar does not want the MGP anymore," senior journalist Derek Almeida told The Quint.
"Success of a pre-poll alliance heavily relies on the ability of two parties to transfer votes to each other in constituencies they aren't contesting in. Due to the ideological divide between the TMC and the MGP, this might be a problem."Derek Almeida, Senior Journalist
MGP's 'Litmus Test' For Survival
MGP has been a long-term ally of the BJP in Goa. In fact, one of the party's most prominent leaders, Sudin Dhavlikar enjoys cordial relations with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who has, in the past, played a crucial role in bringing the two parties together.
"Both the MGP and the BJP in Goa appeal to the same voter base -- the hardcore Hindu belt, especially in north Goa. Over the years, MGP has lost this support base to the BJP," says senior journalist Ajay Thakur, an independent journalist based out of Goa who has reported for STAR News, BBC, the Times Of India, The Goan and O Heraldo, among other publications.
"While the TMC eyes Congress bastions and strongholds such as Catholic-majority areas or the places which have a dominant migrant population, MGP is trying to take back from the BJP what it lost to them over a period of time. The BJP has technically risen over MGP's ashes in Goa which makes TMC a good choice to ally with."Ajay Thakur, Senior Journalist
Between 1994 and 2017, BJP's vote share in Goa has gone up from 9% to 32.9% whereas, MGP has come down from 22.2% to 11.4%. Similarly, number of seats for the BJP has gone up from 4 in 1994 to 13 in 2017, and for the MGP they have declined from 12 in 1994 to 3 in 2017.
Thakur also adds that things have changed after the death of Goa's former CM Manohar Parrikar. "When Parrikar was actively involved in the politics of Goa, he would focus on consolidation of the Hindu vote. MGP and BJP enjoyed a cosy relationship at that time. Wherever the BJP candidates were not winning, he would field MGP candidates and that is how he ensured that the Hindu vote stayed with the alliance. That's not the case anymore," he says.
MGP played a crucial role in BJP forming the government in Goa in 2017 despite Congress emerging as the single largest party in the state. Three legislators from the MGP joined BJP's post-poll alliance which included the Goa Forward Party (which is now in an alliance with Congress) and some independents.
In 2019, however, two of its legislators, Dipak Pawaskar and Manohar Ajgaonkar, quit MGP and formally joined the BJP, leaving MGP with only one MLA, Sudin Dhavalikar. After this episode, MGP also quit the ruling alliance.
"The new BJP leadership including organisation general secretary Satish Dhond, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and state President Sadanand Tanavade do not enjoy the same relationship with the MGP. This was one of the key reasons behind MGP being forced to quit the alliance after two of their ministers jumped ship to the BJP. This led to further alienation between MGP and BJP," Thakur added.
It is interesting that the TMC went hammer and tongs against the Congress and Goa Forward alliance calling it "unholy" because the Goa Forward helped BJP form a government despite a clear mandate against it in 2017. The party has now, however, tied up another player that was a part of the same "unholy" alliance.
Almeida says that this election will prove to be the "litmus test" for MGP, which is already struggling to survive in Goan politics.
"A lot depends on how the TMC and MGP decide to share the seats. TMC gets a local flavour, which it was lacking up until now because of the MGP. On the other hand, for MGP, this is a litmus test for survival after parting ways with the BJP," he says.