From 9.05 percent electoral votes in its favour on its debut in Goa Assembly Polls in 1994 to cornering 32.5 percent of Goan votes in 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come a long way. And if you added the votes of the 12 Congress MLA who quit or joined the BJP en masse taking a whopping 71 percent of the mandate with themselves, the BJP is perceptively winning Goa again.
Even the recent ABP-C-Voter survey gives BJP 19-23 seats – higher than 2017 but lower than the current bench strength of 27 MLAs. There is something uneasy about Goa Legislative Assembly Elections 2022 – and the BJP isn’t comfortable about it.
The House That Manohar Parrikar Built
The 2022 Assembly polls will be the first one in the past 27 years that will not have Manohar Parrikar leading the party in Goa. However, the verdict is still out on who built the BJP in Goa, Parrikar or Union Minister Sripad Naik?
From zero seats in 1994 to 10 seats in 1999, Naik was seen as the moving force as the state BJP president who harnessed the combined might of a growing RSS cadre and a restive Hindu population of Goa against the Congress.
However, the fact remains that it was Parrikar who using his wit, guile, and charm brought down a simple Congress majority of 21 seats to split the party and bring in a BJP government for the first time.
Ever since then it has always been a Parrikar versus the rest including the Congress, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MGP), and a handful of national and regional outfits. The Parrikar aura was so huge that he was brought back to Goa in the last Assembly elections from the Centre as he was always the lucky talisman who could scare the Opposition and keep the party united despite the cracks within.
But despite his squeaky-clean image and chappal-flaunting IIT-ian branding, the fact remains that the BJP wasn’t a true-blue pure Sangh outfit in Goa. It was rather a mixture of disgruntled former Congressmen and some popular Sangh cadre leaders.
One thing that emerged clearly from the BJP’s three terms in power is that it could not cross beyond the simple majority of 21 seats. Its stability was ensured by engineering defections. Even the last big defection of 10 of the Congress’ 15 MLAs to BJP in 2019 months after his death is as much a part of Parrikar’s legacy that tranced Goa.
But then beyond Parrikar’s larger than life indomitable image was also a culture of prejudice and intolerance.
The Bhandari Backlash
Of the 297,588 votes that the BJP polled in the last elections, approximately 2 lakh odd votes are of Goan Hindu Bahujan Samaj’s Bhandari community. And that is the Parrikar era practice that threatens and could hit the BJP hard.
While the Congress sits smugly with having rewarded the Bhandaris with Ravi Naik as the chief minister and even incumbent Girish Chodankar as the state Congress president, the BJP has been systematically sidelining/ignoring/denying its stalwart Bhandari leader Sripad Naik a shot at becoming the chief minister.
Naik who has been consistently contesting and winning Lok Sabha elections from North Goa since 1999 (a whopping five times) has been forcibly kept out of state politics, leave aside from being projected as the chief ministerial candidate.
During Parrikar’s time, a Brahmin caucus used to run the Chief Minister’s Office and state polity with an iron hand, keeping a tight hold over the BJP in the state as well as keeping all other castes and religion in check.
Post Parrikar, the new caucus was a Maratha-Brahmin one comprising a Brahmin Organisation General Secretary Satish Dhond and Maratha Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant and State President Sadanand Tanavade. The Bhandaris remained sidelined and even targeted.
For example, Chief Spokesperson and Taleigao aspirant Dattaprasad Naik was removed to make way for party hopper Babush Monserrate and the entire BJP apparatus in that constituency was dismantled. Smelling such an opportunity, the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal even announced a Bhandari CM.
The Bhandaris and many other backward classes are not exactly in love with the BJP these polls.
The Catholic (Dis)Connect
On 25 November, Ports Minister and Calangute MLA Michael Lobo roared that Chief Minister Sawant withdraws permission given to the BJP’s Shaina NC to build a bungalow in the Christian’s holy Old Goa Heritage Zone or else he would march alongside 3 lakh Christians in protest.
Michael, a Parrikar protégé who holds the keys to over six of the seven Assembly constituencies in Bardez Taluka (the single largest BJP bastion), reflects the mood of almost a dozen Catholic MLAs who are now a part of the BJP despite the party denying Goa’s second-largest voting bloc proportionate representation.
A powerful Catholic BJP minister admits that the BJP will consider RSS, Brahmins, Marathas, Backward Class Hindus and Catholics in that order for key ministries or even chief minister – it is very difficult to play second fiddle for so long.
Parrikar’s Catholic connect has not only been compromised but the undercurrents of intolerance are visible as the Church is no more willing to give the BJP or even right-leaning the AAP and the TMC any leeway.
And…the State of the State
Unbelievable but true, the Goa government has accumulated over Rs 27,000 crore of debts selling Rs 100+ crore bonds every month over the past five years to run the state.
Despite its poster proclaiming daha vasrhacha vikas (10 years of development), the truth remains that the economy is in bad shape with mining shutdown and tourism downturn and an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent. The infighting is such that Health Minister Vishwajit Rane (with a five-seat influence) parted ways for being undermined again and again. Corruption ranks at a new high as the BJP which attacked the Congress for being pro-migrant is now promising illegal occupation of Goan lands by migrants.
Somewhere, despite having a 1 lakh member RSS cadre and despite stealing away successful MLAs off other parties, the BJP is again back in the market this time eyeing strong candidates from the Congress and other parties to win on its own and praying that AAP and the TMC decimate Congress, its prime opponent.
(Ajay Thakur is a multimedia journalist who writes for PixStory and has reported for STAR News, BBC, the Times Of India, The Goan and O Heraldo, among other publications. He tweets at @EagleEyeAT. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)