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#5244, 17 March 2017
 

2017 Indian Assembly Elections

Goa: Staging Post of the Resourceful
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow and Columnist, IPCS
 

Otto Von Bismarck wrote, "Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable, the art of the next best." The quotation assumes relevance in Goa's context where the declining popularity and poor show of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Legislative Assembly (LA) polls were converted into a smart victory after the party managed to secure support of nine of the 10 candidates belonging either to smaller parties or independents. The Congress party, the single largest party in the LA, came woefully close to forming the government. But its inability to garner additional support forced it to stay out of power. 
 
In the elections to the 40-member Assembly, the Congress won 17 seats, followed by the BJP at 13 seats. The BJP's vote share, however, while being larger than the Congress, witnessed a dip compared to the 2012 election results. The party polled 32.5 per cent of the total votes compared to the Congress' 28.4 per cent votes. During the post-poll bargaining, the BJP managed to woo the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (with 11.3 per cent of the votes) and the newly formed Goa Forward Party (with a mere 3.5 per cent of the votes) to its fold, both with three elected members each. Additionally, the Nationalist Congress Party and two independent candidates pledged their support to the BJP. Consequently, the BJP's new strength increased to 22, sufficient to allow it to form the government.  
 
While post-poll understanding between political parties and concepts such as extension of outside support are new neither in the Indian context, nor in Goa (which is known for its unstable political history), the swift marriage for benefit between bitter rivals raised several questions regarding the role of principles in politics and on long-term ability of the new government to deliver on promises made during the campaigning period.
 
The MGP's Ramkrishna (Sudin) Dhavalikar and the GFP’s Vijai Sardesai have in the past been bitter critics of the BJP. The MGP fought the election on an anti-BJP platform, along with the Goa Suraksha Manch floated by former Rashtriya Sawamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Subhash Velinger and the Shiv Sena. While neither the GSM nor the Shiv Sena won any seat in the elections, Velinger's professed objective of "teaching the BJP a lesson" and the GSM's alliance with the MGP made the latter's marriage with the BJP appear as a humongous contradiction. Similarly, among his supporters, Vijai Sardesai had positioned himself as a kingmaker of a non-BJP government. GFP President Prabhakar Timble resigned in protest after Sardesai's dramatic u-turn, and said, "We had our whole campaign against BJP but our 3 legislators have decided to extend the support to BJP.  Now I don't want to be the face of the party." 
 
Both the MGP and the GFP extended support to the BJP on the condition that former Chief Minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, who was serving as India's defence minister, would return to the state to take charge as chief minister. The BJP complied. Following the orders of the Supreme Court after a plea by the Congress party that was not offered a chance to form the government by the Goa governor, a vote of confidence was conducted on 16 March. 22 MLAs voted in favour in support of the BJP. Afterwards, a beaming Parrikar, in a press conference, vowed to carry forward the development agenda of the coalition government for the next five years. 
 
The BJP's victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand has been ascribed by the party to its development and economic growth agenda. Manohar Parrikar, after the Goa election results were declared, had said that the fractured mandate in the state would hinder development and set Goa back by 10 years. 
 
However, lethargic implementation of developmental and infrastructural projects has been the hallmark of the BJP government's five-year tenure in Goa. While factors like anti-incumbency, a mini rebellion by a RSS faction against the BJP, and Manohar Parrikar's induction as the defence minister could have affected the BJP's electoral prospects, the ruling party's failure to address burning issues such as rising unemployment (currently pegged at 10 per cent), lack of quality roads, electricity outages, an absolute lack of garbage collection and disposal mechanisms, rising incidents of crime, drug peddling and prostitution, and slow progress in building bridges across Mandovi and Zuari rivers made it look like a non-performing party. Parrikar running the state's affairs from Delhi with a remote control did not help the prospects of chief minister Lakshmikant Parsekar, who lost in the polls by a sizeable margin of 7000 votes. The BJP had done well to subsidise petrol and electricity prices in Goa, making it the lowest in the entire country, but failed to implement even the relatively routine administrative decisions such as providing license to the beach shacks and beach cleaning contracts. Unsurprisingly, six of the eight BJP ministers lost their polls.
 
Political polarisation among the Hindus who comprise 66 per cent of Goa's population and the Catholic community that comprises 25 per cent of the state's population has grown as a result of BJP's pro-Hindu outlook in states where it is the ruling party. Even though the party has played safe on sensitive issues such as consumption of beef and has seven Catholics among its 13 elected members, the BJP's political performance in Christian-dominated constituencies of South Goa district has remained poor. In South Goa, three prominent sitting Catholic MLAs lost the elections.
 
The biggest surprise of the elections was the inability of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) to win a single seat. The AAP had mounted a massive campaign in the state and was banking on the pre-poll surveys that indicated a rising popular support for the party. In the end, the voters appeared to have detached themselves from an 'outside' party with questionable achievements in the national capital Delhi where it is in power. However, the AAP's 6.3 percent vote share could have eaten into the support base of the non-BJP parties such as the Congress.  
 
The BJP's new found allies and the lifeline of the new government, the MGP and the GFP, are political entities with thin support base within the state. But their rational choice of aligning with the BJP would ensure that they enjoy immense political leverage for next five years. Such opportunistic fence jumping in the Indian context usually translates into a variety of benefits for the candidates, while doing nothing to strengthen democratic principles. 
 
Politics is indeed the staging post of the resourceful.

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