With a clear di­vi­sion in tra­di­tional votes, and an Op­po­si­tion in dis­ar­ray, the BJP looks the fron­trun­ner

India Today - - COVER STORY GOA/MANIPUR - Fol­low the writer on Twitter @ki­rantare By Ki­ran D. Tare

On De­cem­ber 28, when they gath­ered at the arch­bishop’s palace in Panaji for the an­nual Christ­mas re­cep­tion, De­fence min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar and Goa chief min­is­ter Laxmikant Parsekar had no idea of what was to un­fold. Goa arch­bishop Filipe Neri Fer­rao, whom the duo con­sider their well-wisher, was at his caus­tic best. “What we see is ex­ten­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial dam­age to Goa, which has led to ram­pant cor­rup­tion and weak­ened gov­er­nance,” Fer­rao said in his ad­dress, leav­ing the BJP lead­ers red-faced. An­noyed, they left the venue soon after.

The arch­bishop’s com­ments brought things full cir­cle as far as ties be­tween the Church and the BJP are con­cerned. Ex­actly five years ago, fed up with the wide­spread loot by the Digam­bar Ka­mat-led Congress govern­ment, the arch­bishop had ap­pealed to the state’s 27 per cent Ro­man Catholics to vote for change. To­day, the Church says, “the peo­ple are sov­er­eign, they will de­cide”, but the mes­sage is clear once again.

As the assem­bly polls near, the BJP is fight­ing a war on two fronts. It has to neu­tralise for­mer ally, the Ma­ha­rash­trawadi Go­man­tak Party (MGP), which has tied up with the rebel Sangh group, the Goa Su­rak­sha Manch (GSM), on the is­sue of Konkani pride against the BJP’s al­leged Chris­tian ap­pease­ment. The GSM is a new en­trant, but its sup­port­ers are miffed ex-BJP vot­ers, up­set that the party has not kept its prom­ise of scrap­ping grants to English medium schools (a ma­jor­ity of them are Church-run). Mean­while, the party is also los­ing the sup­port of the Chris­tians.

That said, the BJP is still likely to emerge as the sin­gle largest party after the Fe­bru­ary 4 polls, though it may fall short of a sim­ple ma­jor­ity. And it’s thanks to a dis­in­te­grat­ing Congress and the en­try of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which might at­tract the af­flu­ent Chris­tians in south Goa. Mean­while, the GSM’s join­ing hands with the MGP may work against it as Hindu vot­ers see the lat­ter as an op­por­tunist party with lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity. (That said, in north Goa, it could hurt the BJP’s chances.)

The BJP’s main plank to re­tain power is its many devel­op­ment projects, in­clud­ing the 14 new bridges, and the coun­try’s first garbage treat­ment plant in north Goa. Also, the op­po­si­tion’s in­abil­ity to make any cor­rup­tion charges stick works to its ad­van­tage. Parsekar is keen on get­ting the Chris­tian vote to the BJP side. He even per­suaded Par­rikar to shift the venue of the (October 2016) BRICS sum­mit from north Goa to south Goa so that the busi­nesses in the south, mostly Chris­tian-run, could ben­e­fit.

The Congress, mean­while, is a bro­ken house with half of its nine leg­is­la­tors in a re­bel­lious mood. The only re­main­ing in­flu­en­tial Con­gress­man is for­mer CM Ka­mat, and he is fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges too. The ini­tial AAP wave is also pe­ter­ing out. AAP con­venor Arvind Ke­jri­wal has been blow­ing hot and cold on the casino ban is­sue as he knows a big num­ber of the lo­cal youth are em­ployed in the state’s 15 casi­nos. It hasn’t gone down well.


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