The 2012 assembly polls were largely centred on the man of the moment, Goa’s seniormost BJP leader who promised hope and change: Manohar Parrikar.
In 2017, however, after much water has flowed under the Mandovi bridge gently caressing the parked offshore casinos, after the mining ban, after unfulfilled promises to cut down corruption and after his elevation as Defence Minister, the spotlight is now on five personalities, each of whom is playing a defining role as February 4 looms closer.
Parrikar, as Defence Minister, continues to carpet-bomb the BJP cadre with his charm and industry, amid opposition barbs over his constant visits to Goa.
The indefatigable Parrikar has, nevertheless, gone on to attend more than 30 “vijay sankalp” rallies organised by the BJP across Goa. His sheer presence completely overshadows Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar in the campaign. Currently, Parrikar is fire-fighting dissent from sitting legislators who have been denied tickets.
His significance to these elections isn’t lost on his rivals. “It is more of an election of Manohar Parrikar individually, rather than that of BJP or the RSS,” Congress General Secretary for Goa Digvijaya Singh told IANS.
Over in the Congress, Parrikar’s guile is somewhat met by state unit President Luizinho Faleiro, who, over the last few weeks, through clever selection of candidates and out-manoeuvring aggressive alliance-seeking parties, has helped gain lost ground for the party, which was in tatters since its battering in 2012.
Reduced to an unprecedented nine MLAs and with BJP poaching two of its “winnable”, but tainted, MLAs — Mauvin Godinho and Pandurang Madkaikar — the late revival engineered by the former Congress Working Committee member could see the outfit gain a few more seats.
The party’s gumption and confidence can be gauged by its rejection of a formal alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and Goa Foward, and its decision to allot a big chunk of seats to fresh candidates.
“We may have made mistakes in the past, but we’ve apologised for it. We are here now to win people’s hearts, not just the elections,” Faleiro maintained.
Former PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar has allied with both Congress and BJP-led governments in the past but 2017 presents him an opportunity to vault to chief ministership.
With the BJP weakened by anti-incumbency, the formal absence of Parrikar and the effects of demonetisation, Dhavalikar’s Maharashtrwadi Gomantak Party (MGP) has ambitiously spread its wings this time, contesting 26 of the 40 assembly seats, leaving the rest for alliance partners Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) and Shiv Sena.
The three parties are gunning for the same Hindu conservative vote that the BJP had successfully cornered in 2012. While he claims the alliance is going strong, Dhavalikar, who is its mutually-accepted chief ministerial candidate, doesn’t deny the possibility of a post-poll alliance with the BJP.
“I cannot tell you that now… Sometimes in politics you have to adopt Chanakyaniti,” said the son of a former temple priest.
Meanwhile, the former high priest of the RSS in Goa, Subhash Velingkar, continues to torment the BJP and its leaders, whom he has criticised (at one poll rally, he even described the BJP cadre as dogs) for their neglect of regional languages, especially in primary schools.
His role and that of the GSM are proving to be a thorn in the BJP’s flesh. Neither the Congress, nor the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), nor the MGP has been able to match the intensity of Velingkar’s accusations and singularly anti-BJP campaign, which has the RSS and the BJP cadre in a bind.
“The BJP and Parrikar have betrayed Goa. They deserve to be packed off,” Velingkar told IANS.
The “unputdownable” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also continues to salvage some hope for the AAP, whose campaign in Goa appears directly proportionate to the party co-founder’s visits here. With the party’s chief ministerial candidate Elvis Gomes struggling to add spark to its campaign, the burden may have to be borne by Kejriwal, whose party is also campaigning in Punjab.
Kejriwal, who initially claimed the party would win 35 seats in Goa, has shied away from the seat-count in recent meetings. “We have seen all politicians, from the BJP, Congress, MGP. Politicians will not do now. We need ordinary people from Goa to go to the legislative assembly,” he said.