Goa Election 2017: BJP readies to unleash blitzkrieg at the booths

Pushed into a tough multi-cornered contest, Goa’s ruling BJP is ready to unleash its time-tested high- intensity campaigning ahead of the assembly polls on 4 February. Top state and national level leaders of the party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah are to campaign to save their citadel from crumbling in Goa.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah. AFP

Defeat in Goa would adversely impact Modi and the BJP, considering Goa is the only BJP-ruled state among five provinces set to go to the polls between February and March (BJP is a junior partner to the Shiromani Akali Dal-led government in Punjab).

BJP is ready with its blueprint of campaigning in four phases and gradually increasing the tempo. The first phase of reaching out to the 11,09,280 voters through door-to-door campaigning has already begun.  Teams of 20 workers from each of the nearly 1,700 booths are visiting voters with printed materials and booklets highlighting the achievements of the provincial government over the past five years.

In the second phase, top Goa BJP leaders, including federal ministers Manohar Parrikar and Shripad Naik, incumbent Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, his deputy Francis D’Souza, South Goa Member of Parliament Narendra Sawaikar and Goa BJP president Vinay Tendulkar are to address rallies covering all 40 constituencies across the state. These rallies are to be held over the weekend between 20 January and 22 January.

Senior national leaders of the BJP will come into the picture in the third phase which kicks off on 23 January, prominent among them Amit Shah, who is expected to address four rallies.

The fourth and final phase, which begins on 27 January will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Goa. He is expected to address two rallies – one each in Hindu majority north Goa and Christian majority south Goa. While Modi’s programme has not been finalised yet, he will, in all likelihood visit Goa on 28 or 29 January which happens to be over the weekend. This phase will last till 2 February when the campaigning comes to an end in the lead-up to the polling on 4 February.

A galaxy of BJP leaders from some neighbouring states and federal ministers are also expected to address rallies to maintain the tempo. Federal highways ministers Nitin Gadkari and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis are in high demand since they can address crowds in Marathi, which along with Konkani, is widely spoken in Goa. Gadkari is also BJP’s in-charge for Goa.

Other federal ministers slated to address rallies here include Rajnath Singh, M Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman. Interestingly, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s name does not figure in the list of campaigners, perhaps because he may not be popular anywhere after the Modi government’s demonetisation policy, although the official line remains that Jaitley will be preoccupied with presenting the Union Budget on 1 February. The BJP may also rope in some Bollywood stars like Jackie Shroff and Arjun Rampal who have expressed their desire to campaign for the party. BJP’s former star campaigner and federal lawmaker Shatrughan Sinha’s services are unlikely to be requisitioned due to his anti-Modi image.

Termed as carpet bombing by the BJP, this phased and sustained campaign strategy, meaning one rally after the other in any poll-bound state, was planned in the war room situated inside BJP’s central office in New Delhi. The concept of carpet bombing and involvement of war room has been utilised for the Goa election, which indicates that the BJP might find it difficult to match the 21 seats it won in the 2012 polls, although Amit Shah has fixed a target of winning 26 seats.

BJP has reasons to be sceptical about its prospects ever since its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) decided to withdraw its patronage in Goa. Goa unit of the RSS has already announced that it will not campaign for or against any political party this time while giving a free hand to its cadres to support, campaign or vote for any party or individual of their choice. The RSS had actively campaigned for the BJP in 2007 and 2012 Goa polls.

RSS’ Goa unit is unhappy with the BJP government dragging its feet over the contentious medium of instruction (MoI) issue. BJP had come to power in 2012 promising Konkani and Marathi as medium of instruction in primary schools. However, in order to keep the local Christian community in good humour, it never implemented it. All the Parsekar government did was to set up a committee to study the issue towards the fag end of its tenure while continuinggovernment funding to English medium schools which are owned and operated by churches. This led to rebellion in the Goa unit of RSS last year and formation of rebel Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) as a political party. GSM has since entered into pre-poll alliance with BJP’s erstwhile ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) with the avowed aim of defeating BJP. RSS central leaders, fearing another rebellion and split in its ranks, are reluctant to lend a helping hand to the BJP in Goa.

The only solace for the BJP is that the GSM’s decision to join hands with the MGP may not go down too well with the majority Hindu voters as they see MGP as untrustworthy and power hungry.

Another factor that may help BJP is the split in the anti-incumbency votes after decision of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to contest Goa polls in a big way. The Christian votes, particularly in south Goa, may witness vertical split between the principal opposition the Congress and AAP, which might help the BJP scrape through in many constituencies.

Moreover, the traditional Congress vote bank may witness a further dent after an enraged Nationalist Congress Party’s announced it would contest 20 seats after it was spurned by its old ally at the eleventh hour.

However, the BJP, for its part, is not looking to burn its bridges with the MGP since it sacked the Dhavalikar brothers (Sudin and Deepak) as cabinet ministers in December. The idea is to use the MGP, which has its pocket boroughs in three constituencies, through all means, including enticement to support it post-poll, should it fall short of the majority mark.

The BJP has adopted a well thought out strategy to divert the attention from MoI and demonetisation by talking about its achievements and development work done during the past five years, including construction of 14 new bridges, widening or resurfacing of seven major roads, renovating government offices, implementing a better health care system, several social welfare schemes, construction of a state of the art floating jetty in Old Goa and opening a modern garbage treatment plant in north Goa, besides the fact that its government has by and large remained free from any corruption charges.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2017 09:09 AM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 09:09 AM

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