On Monday, 10 January, the word out on the streets of Goa was that the Congress is contemplating an offer of forming an alliance with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) ahead of the upcoming assembly elections. A few 'source-based' news reports, and 10 days later, it is clear that the alleged alliance is out of picture — for now, at least.
Ten days, however, is a lot of time in politics, and the events which transpired during this time in Goa have presented an interesting picture of what's brewing in India's smallest state as it gears up to vote for 40 assembly seats on 14 February.
The Quint spoke to political analysts and senior journalists to understand the reasons behind TMC's offer, Congress' rejection, and the possibilities of the two parties coming together (or not) in near future.
In this piece, we will shed light on the following points:
What made TMC propose a last-minute alliance?
Is Congress overplaying its hand by rejecting TMC's offer?
Election math, with and without the alliance.
The speculation around a possible alliance between the two parties gained momentum in the first week of January. In fact, on 15 January, TMC's election in-charge in Goa, Mahua Moitra tweeted that a "definitive offer" has been made by the TMC to the Congress, and that the latter has asked for time to revert.
Senior Congress leaders such as KC Venugopal, P Chidambaram and Dinesh Gundu Rao, however, have repeatedly denied receiving any concrete offer and maintained that the Congress will fight Goa on its own.
So, what made the TMC, first propose a last-minute alliance, then accept it in public despite knowing that the Congress leadership was not very keen?
"It's essentially a reality check for the TMC," says senior journalist Ajay Thakur. "Goa might be a small state but it is a very intense place. You cannot take a flight one day, come here, ask people for their votes, and then go away. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been trying to build a base in the state for more than seven years, and has attained little success till date. Clearly, with elections around the corner, the TMC smelled the coffee and the mood of Goans," he adds.
During its early days in Goa, the TMC launched an aggressive campaign in the state — targeting not just the BJP, but also the Congress.
During one of her visits to Goa, party supremo Mamata Banerjee alleged that the "Congress is BJP's TRP (Television Rating Points)" and that the grand old party only serves the purpose of "bolstering" Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image.
"Modiji is going to be more powerful because of the Congress. The Congress is the BJP’s TRP. If they (Congress) cannot take a decision, the country will suffer. Why should the country suffer? They have had enough opportunities,” she remarked.
Not just this, several Congress leaders such as Luizinho Faleiro, Lavoo Mamledar, Aleixo Lourenco and others jumped ship to the TMC.
"People on the ground are quite convinced that the TMC and the IPAC (full form) are here to take on the Congress and not the BJP. This might help in crystallisation of votes in favour of the Congress."Ajay Thakur, Journalist
Here, advocate and former member of Goa State Law Commission, Cleofato Almeida Coutinho points out that when the TMC offered the alliance, most people were convinced that they were almost down and out.
"The Prashant Kishor-IPAC formula won't work in Goa," he says. "This alliance offer is TMC's attempt at saving its face in Goa. If they are able to broker this, and they get to contest on 8-10 seats, they might win 1 or 2 out of them. It'll be a huge achievement," he adds.
In his interview to a local TV channel on 14 January, P Chidambaram remarked that the "real fight" in Goa is between the BJP and the Congress, and that the TMC must reflect on this reality.
"If anyone wants to support the anti-BJP front, they should certainly reach out to the Congress. The kind of aggressive campaign launched by the TMC and poaching of Congress workers, however, has left a bitter taste," the senior Congress leader had said.
"If they (TMC) recognise that the Congress is the main challenger to the BJP, things could still fall in place. In Goa, it is BJP vs the Congress. Whether it'll be Congress+ is up for discussion, but it cannot be BJP vs any front which does not have the Congress in the lead role," Chidambaram remarked during the interview.
This is perhaps the main reason as to why the alliance between the two parties could not materialise.
"In Goa, the winning margin in the past has been as thin as just 50 votes. On many seats, 50-100 votes are enough to make a difference," says Ajay Thakur. "In such a scenario, the TMC, Congress, NCP, and AAP are all competing for the same secular or anti-BJP vote," he adds.
Here, Coutinho makes a similar point. "The TMC is trying to occupy the same space as the Congress party. They are not attacking the space occupied by the BJP. Even a pre-poll alliance between the TMC and the AAP is an absurd idea because of the same reason," he says.
The Quint has learnt that internal surveys by the Congress party project the party winning 20-22 seats on its own. This is in sharp contrast to the projections by many opinion polls, including one by ABP-C Voter which predicted a clear edge for the BJP, with AAP in the runners-up position, and Congress scoring only a distant third.
What seems to be working for the Congress though is the sudden revival that the party has seen after being reduced to just one MLA. The joining of former BJP Minister and Calangute MLA, Michael Lobo has given the party a much needed boost in north Goa where Lobo enjoys significant influence. Several legislators who quit the Congress to join the TMC are also looking to return home.
Can We Expect a 'Happily Ever After'?
Pre-election surveys by local channels in Goa have pointed towards strong anti-incumbency in the state — 60-65 per cent to be precise. It is interesting to note that there are around five key players up for grabbing this space. These include, Congress, TMC, AAP, NCP and Shiv Sena, and a new outfit called the Revolutionary Goans.
This arithmetic has led to political analysts and experts suggesting that a united opposition should take on the BJP in Goa.
The Quint spoke to former State Election Commissioner (SEC) Prabhakar Timble who says that the "TMC is using all permutations and combinations to get traction" in Goa.
"Mahua Moitra has claimed that the TMC is ready is ready to walk any mile to oust the BJP, including forming an alliance with the Congress. This, however, is a one-sided affair. They want to convince Goan voters that the BJP can only be defeated if all of the opposition comes together."Prabhakar Timble, Former State Election Commissioner
"A united opposition means that all of these parties — Congress, AAP, TMC, MGP, NCP, Shiv Sena, and Goa Forward — will contest on 3-4 seats each. This will create a lot of confusion," Timble adds.
Both Ajay Thakur and Cleofato Coutinho agree that a post-poll coalition like the one that happened in Maharashtra should not be ruled out.
"The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was born post-poll. The Congress might want to consider something similar in Goa," says Thakur.
Coutinho, on the other hand, points out that despite high anti-incumbency, all pre-poll surveys and opinion polls have put the BJP at the top. "They (TMC-Congress) may come together in a coalition but not in an alliance," he says. "The AAP, Congress, and TMC are all in an over-crowded anti-BJP space. This leaves little room for a pre-poll alliance. It'll be too soon to rule out a post-poll alliance, though," he adds.