Despite new challengers, it’s going to be BJP vs Cong all the way in Goa

For all the chaos caused by the new-found resurgence of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of the Assembly polls in Goa, as the February 14 polling day creeps closer, the two main political parties — the ruling BJP and the Congress — appear to have taken the centre stage in the coastal state, just like in 2017 elections.

A few months ago, the re-invigorated entry of the TMC had ended up erasing AAP’s novelty as the new kid on the block in Goa’s politics, before the TMC itself appeared to have run out of steam as the polling date draws closer.

While the BJP and the Congress appear to have donned the colours of the main proponents of the elections for the upcoming polls, the ground realities for both parties, however, differ from the preceding Assembly polls.

While the BJP finally formed a government after the 2017 polls following a midnight coup, the party had fared dismally, with its seat share falling from 21 to 13. This sizeable fall in seats occurred despite the presence of then Defence Minister late Manohar Parrikar, who was leading the party’s charge in his parent state.

In 2022, the BJP appears to be floundering in the absence of the former Chief Minister. The party faces high profile rebellions in several constituencies, including Panaji and Mandrem, where Parrikar’s son Utpal Parrikar and former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar are contesting as Independent candidates.

After 10 years in power, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant-led BJP also faces severe anti-incumbency, especially in the wake of a series of corruption allegations against his ministers and MLAs, who are linked to recruitment scams, indicted for graft by the state Lokayukta, a sex scandal, etc.

While BJP leaders in off-record conversations are apprehensive about the party losing ground among the minority voters — who account for more than a third of the state’s population — Chief Minister Pramod Sawant claims the contrary.

“This time too, the minority will vote for Goa in a big way. A priest in Saligao was present for the office inauguration of Jayesh Salgaonkar. He prayed and gave him blessings. We have also given 12 tickets to minority (candidates). They are getting a good response from the majority and the minority communities,” Sawant claimed.

The Congress’ larder of MLAs has been raided again and again by the BJP from 2017-2022, leaving the opposition party with just two MLAs. To help build popular confidence, the party has paraded its candidates to temples of all religious faiths, where its candidates have been made to take an oath against defection.

The party has also been impacted by desertion of a section of its leadership base to the BJP, TMC and AAP.

However, over the last few weeks, the party’s strategy carved out by former Union Finance Minister and Congress’ senior poll observer P. Chidambaram of playing it ‘cool’ in face of aggressive moves by the AAP and the TMC, has left the party better placed to launch its offensive in the final stages of the election campaign. The party has also denied tickets to defectors who quit the party after the 2017 elections, a fact which has been constantly tom-tommed by Congress leaders.

“This time the BJP will come down from 13 to 8. Their number will be below 10. They do not seem to have understood the popular resentment,” said ex-Congress CM, Digambar Kamat.

The reason for the shades of confidence within the Congress ranks appears to be two-fold. One is the gradual running out of steam in the respective campaigns run by the TMC and AAP, who the Congress has branded as “vote cutters”, the other being the party’s positioning — although delayed — as the only alternative to the BJP.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his election rally in Goa on Friday urged the voters to ignore “other parties”, claiming that the February 14 contest in Goa is between his party and the BJP.

The process of counting votes on March 10 should provide him with the required proof.

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