Goa Election 2017: Tiny state faces a giant wait as Saturday suspense will end only in March

Panaji: The south-western coastal state Goa, which until not long ago was known for redefining the ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ brand of politics originally authored by Late Bhajan Lal as Haryana chief minister, is staring at a crucial voting taking place Saturday to elect its new state legislative assembly.

Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar. PTI

Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar. PTI

The long agonising wait starts right after the last beep in an EVM machine as voters will have to wait patiently for 35 days to know the future direction Goa’s politics takes hereafter, with the counting of votes slated to take place on 11 March along with rest of the four poll-bound states.

Goa has witnessed 22 governments since its first ever encounter with structured democracy in past 54 years, following its liberation from 456-years of Portuguese rule in 1961. In between the state witnessed five spells of President’s Rule for a total of 639 days. Starting July 1998, the state saw formations of 10 governments until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with a clear majority in 2012 polls.

BJP provided the rare stability and managed to run the government without indulging in horse-trading, virtually ending what is locally known as ‘suitcase politics’, symbolising purchase of elected lawmakers with money power.

That stability, however, is no guarantee to BJP’s success with the confusion prevailing on the eve of polling. Smarting under the embarrassment of 2012 defeat in which it managed to win just nine out of 40 seats of the state assembly, the Congress party is back with vengeance to increase its tally and form the next government.

Then there are smaller and regional parties by the dozens, and a battery of independents hoping for the revival of suitcase politics. What, however, has led to confusion is the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its intense campaigning to emerge victorious.

AAP is blaming both Congress and BJP as corrupt parties that looted Goa over the years, BJP is blaming Congress and the Congress blames BJP. While rampant corruption that was more of a norm in Goa in the past is yet again the central theme of the elections, it will be interesting to note on March 11 as to who managed to sell dreams of a corruption-free Goa to the masses more effectively and efficiently.

What makes Goa different from other states is its small size. At the most, assembly elections in Goa resembles civic body polls of bigger states and personal loyalties of voters to their leaders matter a lot. Moreover, voters are driven by very localised issues. The size of its registered voters stands at 11.09 lakh. Last time 81.73 percent voters had opted to exercise their right to franchise and the Election Commission is doing all it could to ensure there is no dip in voting percentage.

Since releasing manifestoes are part of a democratic setup, all parties have come out with fancy manifestoes, virtually promising the moon to the voters. These include offering unemployment doles to the jobless to unheard of freebies. BJP which claims to have implemented 90 percent of its promises made in 2012, has gone a bit futuristic by promising better and rapid transportation which is key for locals and millions of tourist who throng to Goa each year, making it one of the richest India states in terms of per capita income.

BJP, which was finding itself in a web of its own making after it requisitioned services of its most popular Goa leader and then state chief minister Manohar Parrikar in 2014 to take over as the federal defence minister and replacing him with an honest trier but uninspiring Laxmikant Parsekar, has somewhat recovered a bit of lost ground after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly successful rally on 28 January and the BJP dropping enough broad hints that Goa would not have to suffer Parsekar any longer as it was ready to send back Parrikar as the new chief minister after polls.

The move seems to have paid off. While earlier opinion polls had predicted election of a hung assembly with BJP as the single largest party, a latest opinion poll done on behalf of India Today predicts clear majority for the BJP and near washout of AAP.

No one yet knows about the real strength of AAP and whether it would prove pollsters wrong and spring a surprise a la Delhi in 2014 or merely dent votes of the two major parties. The AAP factor has definitely added spice to Goa polls, if not an interesting turn.

The little edge that the BJP seems to enjoy, may come as a big relief. As BJP is targeting victories in all five states, retaining power is Goa will save Modi certain embarrassment considering the current round of state polls have come just months after Modi government’s highly contentious demonetisation policy. Since Goa is the only amongst these five states for BJP to have its chief minister, loss of Goa may be seen as rejection of Modi, of this is what its opponents would say.

A Congress party victory would be credited to its vice president who addressed two insipid rallies here and help him project as the next Indian prime minister. A Congress party loss would be owned by the state unit president who may get rewarded with a post in the central secretariat of the party.

A good or bad debut show by AAP may make or mar national ambitions of its supremo Arvind Kejriwal since he had zoomed in on Goa and Punjab for its growth beyond Delhi.

What however is certain that life and business will be back to normal from Sunday irrespective of who wins or loses since Goa cannot afford to lose foreign and domestic tourists which is the only thing constant in a land known for sifting political sands.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 09:55 AM

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