Goa Election 2017: Congress, BJP battle within as rebels turn heat with independent nominations

Panaji: Two major contenders for power in south-western state Goa – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress party — are fighting a battle to get some of the rebels withdraw from the fray with the last date for withdrawal ending on 21 January.

 Goa Election 2017: Congress, BJP battle within as rebels turn heat with independent nominations

The rebel challenge. Reuters

Compared to 2012 state elections when 215 candidates were in the fray for the 40-member legislative assembly, a staggering 405 aspirants had filed their nominations when the process for filing of nomination ended on 18 January, triggering fears that as against the expected four-cornered contests, Goa may witness multi-cornered contests when the 11.09 lakh registered voters exercise their right to franchise on 4 February.

Both BJP and the Congress had officially announced to contest 36 seats each. While BJP announced tactical support to four independents, Congress party had set aside four seats for Goa Forward (GF) party. However, Congress party ended up fielding 37 candidates, including Joseph Silva from Fatorda seat, which it had supposed to have left for GF mentor Vijai Serdesai.

The overall list of candidates in the fray may come down after the dummy candidates withdraw their nominations. Major parties often file dummy candidates to ensure they do not go unrepresented if the official candidate’s nomination is rejected for any reason. Lack of a dummy candidate has already cost the Shiv Sena the Pernem seat after nomination papers of its candidate Sangam Bhosle was rejected.

Problem for the two parties are expected to increase if the dummy candidates refuse to withdraw, which is not uncommon in Goa which witnesses a huge number of independents every time elections are held in the coastal state. Victories of five out of 72 independents in fray in 2012 polls, which happens to be the maximum the state has ever elected, is expected to work as incentive for the rebels. The 72 independents had together managed to poll a whopping 16.67 percent of the total votes polled five years ago.

All out pressure and persuasion tactics of the BJP to get Ramesh Tawadkar withdraw from fray as an independent from his home constituency Canacona has failed to bear fruits. Tawadkar was serving as a minister in the outgoing Laxmikant Parsekar government. He along with Anant Shet, Speaker of the outgoing assembly, were only the two lawmakers from among 21 BJP MLAs denied nomination.

While Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is virtually running the BJP show in Goa, managed to persuade Shet not to contest as an independent form his Mayem seat, after promising him a lucrative post in one of the government bodies, Tawadkar has refused to budge. BJP had stated that it took the decision based on two internal surveys conducted by professional agencies which concluded that Tawadkar and Shet had become unpopular among voters and stood no chance to emerging victories, if fielded.

Tawadkar, the thrice BJP MLA is contesting this and says he will prove his popularity by winning the Canacona seat, the lone seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribe in Goa. In their place, the BJP has nominated two turncoats from the ranks of the Congress party -- Vijay Pal Khot and Pravin Zamtye from Canacona and Mayem seats respectively.

The drama being witnessed in the Congress party is of its own making. Silva had filed nominations from the same Fatorda seat on behalf of both the Congress party and Goa Vikas Party. He opted to withdraw his nomination from Goa Vikas Party when the returning officer during scrutiny pointed out that he cannot contest on behalf of both and it may lead to cancellation of his nomination on behalf of both parties. He sought time for an hour and produced Form B, duly signed by the Goa Congress chief Luizinho Faleiro recommending party symbol for him along with a certificate that he indeed was a registered Congress member, following which his nomination was accepted.

Serdesai, who Congress party circles allege had managed to buy the Fatorda seat following a personal deal with a senior party leader in New Delhi, objected to it. By the time Faleiro’s messenger could reach the returning officer’s office with the official message withdrawing Form B to Silva, the 3 O’clock deadline had elapsed, giving legs to doubts that it was all pre-planned and enacted at the behest of another faction at the Congress party’s central office in New Delhi which was opposed to the understanding with the GF party in four seats.

The Congress party had initially announced its intention to contest all 40 seats without any pre-poll alliance.

The Goa unit of the Congress party now wants GF party to withdraw its candidates in its favour from two seats, namely Saligao and Velim in lieu of Fatorda. Congress party had announced it would not contest Fatorda, Panaji, Porvorim and Siolim seats. Silva has since said that under no circumstances he would withdraw his candidature and the returning officer has said he will remain the official candidate of the Congress party in case he does not withdraw from the fray.

What hold further trouble for the Congress party is the decision of its erstwhile ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to field its candidates on 18 seats on the last day of filing of nominations after the Congress party refused to set aside any seat for it either under alliance or adjustment.

The Congress party was expecting NCP to enter into the fray only from Benaulim seat of former Goa chief minister and political heavyweight Churchil Alemao. Alemao had joined NCP in the run up to the Goa polls. What, however, has surprised the Congress party is the NCP’s audacity to field 18 candidates. While it remains to be seen if NCP, unlike 2012 when it had contested seven seats as a junior ally to the Congress party and failed to win any, will manage to open its account this time, there is no doubt that NCP may dent and hurt prospects of the Congress party in at least four constituencies, since the two parties share the common ideology and vote bank.

The All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge for Goa, Digvijaya Singh, who rushed to Goa on Thursday night to manage the tricky situation, is bound to have a tough time in getting Silva and NCP candidates withdraw from the race on Friday.

If the Congress party falters at the hustings, it will have none to blame but itself for dilly-dallying on alliance issue and delaying its list of candidates till the last date.

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2017 11:54:20 IST