On January 22, opposition leader Digambar Kamat, state Congress president Girish Chodankar and P. Chidambaram, Congress’s election observer for Goa, took 36 party candidates to the Mahalakshmi temple in Panaji. The candidates were made to swear that they would not defect to the BJP or any other party if they got elected. The ritual was repeated at the Bambolim Cross church and the Hamza Shah Dargah.
Having badly burnt its fingers in 2017 and 2019, when Congress legislators joined the BJP in groups, the party does not want to take any chances this time. Whether the candidates took the oath in all sincerity will become clear only after the results are declared on March 10. But this temple run speaks volumes about the Congress’s fear of the BJP, especially its ability to break parties to reach its goal of forming the government.
‘Power at any cost’ seems to be the tagline of the BJP’s election campaign in Goa, which reflects in its selection of candidates, too. The BJP state leadership has realised that the task of retaining power in the ‘Sushegaat’ (relaxed) state will not be easy. And, it is not taking any chances, be it denying tickets to a few sitting MLAs, rejecting claims of aspirants like Utpal Parrikar, son of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, or dumping former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, who lobbied hard for a ticket from his home turf Mandrem. Parrikar and Parsekar have since quit the BJP and have decided to contest as independents. But these are small hurdles.
Having ruled Goa since 2012, the BJP is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave this time. And, it has itself to blame, as people have not forgotten how the BJP formed the government in 2017 when it was the second largest party with 13 legislators, a good eight short of majority in the 40-member house. Subsequently, in 2019, it engineered a split in the Congress and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party to add 12 more legislators to its kitty. In doing so, it reduced the MGP to just one legislator and delivered a severe blow to the oldest Hindu party in Goa. No wonder the MGP has refused to ally with the BJP this time and has joined hands with the Trinamool Congress, which has vowed to oust the BJP from power.
“I do not think any party will get majority on its own this time,” says Sunil Naik, former sarpanch of Karmali village. “There is a lot of anger against the BJP in people’s mind. It is no more the party that Manohar Parrikar built and represented. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant does not enjoy that good an image. They say he has purchased a mine in neighbouring Maharashtra. He may still win, but I doubt the BJP will be able to form the government on its own.”
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