Goa Election 2017: Religious identity plays subtle role in determining voter choices

First the good news: No communal antagonism is evident in Goa. Nor have campaigns during the ongoing assembly elections been based on communal hatred, as has occasionally been visible in Uttar Pradesh. And yet, there is an uncanny predictability about the parties a voter is likely to choose from, depending on voter's religious affiliation.

Of course, in the fractured political scenario of Goa, and the scattered ballot in most constituencies, many voters are also considering choosing independent candidates (many of whom have a strong presence) and strong Goa-specific parties — with names like Goa Vikas Party, Goa Suraj Party, Goa Suraksha Manch and Goa Forward. And while the patterns, even for choices between major parties, are by no means absolute, they are common enough to be noticeable.

 Goa Election 2017: Religious identity plays subtle role in determining voter choices

Aam Aadmi Party may end up splitting the 'secular vote'. Representational image/AFP

Minorities shift since 2012

The most commonly noticeable pattern in a generally lacklustre round of elections is that very few Christians or Muslims appear to back the BJP this time, except those who are close to particular minority candidates. Yes, that's an interesting sidelight: Almost one-third of the candidates BJP has fielded in Goa are Christians. In fact, chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar points out that the number of the BJP's Christian candidates is up from six in 2012 to eight in 2017.

However, that inclusive distribution of tickets does not seem to have cut much ice with most Christians. That's a great contrast with the 2012 elections, when it was widely believed that Christians — as much as others — were by and large so disgusted with the Congress' corruption that they decided to back the BJP. There was a pull factor too: BJP's chief minister designate (current Union Defence Minister) Manohar Parrikar had a clean image and was perceived as a doer.

Clearly, the overarching Parrikar compact, which brought together various communities last time, has gone. Asked about the change in the Church's attitude since the last elections, Parsekar said he wouldn't like to comment.

Nor do Christians back the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which is perceived as having a clearly pro-Hindu bias. For instance, it has taken a stand against state funding for schools that teach in English — widely seen as shorthand for diocesan schools run by the Catholic Church.

Traditional choices

On the other hand, very few Hindus appear to support Congress in many parts of Goa. Even though very many Hindus are disappointed with the BJP too, the anti-incumbency sentiment is not nearly as strong as it was against the Congress government last time. So, while many Hindus do not feel inspired by either of these two major parties, they are more often than not willing to carry on with the BJP, rather than go back to Congress.

For its part, MGP seems to get its support from Hindus alone, even more exclusively than the BJP does. To the extent that these patterns hold, traditional patterns of community affiliations might be said to be back in play.

New pattern for AAP

For the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), support appears to be be more common among Christians than Hindus. So much so that former chief minister and current president of the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) Luizinho Faleiro says "they will divide the secular vote". But he is quick to add that AAP remains only a marginal force — even though he acknowledges they have worked hard to establish their presence.

There is another way the electorate is sliced with regard to support for AAP: More of the traditionally less privileged castes — from among both Hindus and Christians — seem to be willing to back AAP. Elvis Gomes, the party's chief ministerial candidate alludes to this, saying, "We have given tickets to lower castes."

Dissatisfaction with ticket distribution

One factor that might favour the BJP marginally is that many voters complain that Congress and AAP have erred in choosing their candidates. Faleiro says he has brought new faces to the fore. That has led to a certain amount of dissension in the ranks, while it has not done much to nullify the Congress' lingering image as a corrupt and venal party.

On the other hand, people talk of AAP candidates as "rejects", those who could not get a ticket elsewhere. That is, however, not how the party sees things. "We are all professionals," says Dr Mariano Godinho, a physician who is AAP candidate from Nuvem constituency.

Gomes, the party's public face, envisions governance in which MLAs don't play middlemen. But voters by and large perceive their representatives as just that — middlemen who get will get them government largesse. And none of the doctors and other professionals leading AAP have a record of having got voters loans, admissions, benefits of government schemes, or even roads, bridges, drains, etc.

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 13:23:41 IST