By P.K. Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, November 1: Seven Indian States are due to have their Legislative Assembly Elections in 2022. The results of these polls are expected to give a foretaste of the political scenario in 2024, when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be facing Parliamentary Elections across the country. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa are to go for elections in early 2022. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will have elections later in the year. The BJP has heavy stakes in these elections because, barring Punjab, it is the ruling party in these States. It is therefore expected to put its heart and soul, money and muscle, into the campaigns.
The BJP is expected to have a walk over in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Manipur. But in Punjab and Goa, its chances appear to be significantly less, even though the Congress Party unit in Punjab is badly divided on caste lines, and the one in Goa is in a shambles. Reports in the Goan Media suggest that the BJP government there has been getting progressively unpopular. It could be curtains down for its 10-year rule. The BJP came second in the 2017 elections, but managed to continue in power by naked horse-trading as well as some unprincipled help from a partisan State Governor (appointed by the BJP-ruled Central Government).
In its second term in Goa, the BJP continued to disappoint the people. Its government had mishandled the COVID pandemic, allegedly due to underhand dealings in the supply of oxygen. Even after the High Court intervened, the Government denied that any deaths had occurred due to a shortage of oxygen. Peaceful protesters were detained. Thousands of jobs were promised, but delivery had fallen short. BJP cadres are reportedly nervous.
The anti-incumbency factor has been working as the BJP has been in power for 10 years. There is an apprehension among them that horsetrading may not work this time round. However, the party’s leaders are hoping that a fractured Opposition and a broken Congress will work to their advantage. And to catch the votes of the Hindu-majority (Hindus are 67 per cent of the Goan population) the BJP encouraged the militant Hindu outfit, the Bajrang Dal, to enter State politics to exhibit “the strength of the Hindus.”
As for the Congress in Goa. It is truly a broken reed, with many Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) leaving it to seek shelter either in the BJP (because it is in power) or the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has emerged as a party of hope for the secular-minded. The Congress’s decline in the Goa Assembly began in 2019, when a set of MLAs quit the party and merged their breakaway faction with the ruling BJP. Others went individually. Quickly, the Congress’ strength was reduced from 17 to five in the House of 40. Recently, the Congress lost veteran MLA and former Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro to the TMC, reducing its strength in the Assembly to four.
The real challenge to the BJP might well come from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by the firebrand West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The TMC is a recent entry into Goan politics and will be fighting its first election. The TMC and Mamata Banerjee had distinguished themselves recently by beating the BJP hollow in West Bengal, when most pundits predicted that the BJP would sweep the elections as it did in the 2019 Parliamentary Polls in that State.
Banerjee and the TMC are now aiming at taking over from the Congress the role of being the main challenger to the BJP at the all-India level. In fact, the TMC’s Bengali organ has declared that Banerjee is the fittest Opposition politician to take on BJP Supremo Narendra Modi at the national level.
The reason for this conjecture is basically ideological. The TMC’s secularism has emerged as the clearest alternative to the BJP’s Hindutvic ideology. Thus, the people will have a clear choice between the BJP Hindu nationalism on the one hand and the TMC’s secularism on the other. The Congress, which was a secular alternative earlier, has ceased to be one, because it has, for all practical purposes, ceased to tout secularism in order to compete with the BJP for “Hindu” votes. In Goa, secularism is an important factor because 25 per cent of the population is Christian (Catholic).
The Congress may suffer if the TMC becomes the face of secularism. Unlike the Congress, the TMC has had no reservations about projecting its secular character. Through the recent West Bengal legislative elections, the TMC has proved that opposing the BJP ideologically on the issue of Hindutva can pay rich dividends. But the Congress is not sure about this, even though the writing on the wall says that if the party is only an imitation of the BJP, it has no chance. Voters go for the real thing, not an imitation. No wonder the Congress got no seat in the West Bengal Assembly elections. However, the Congress is ridiculing the TMC’s claims.
As senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram put it, unlike the TMC, the Congress is entrenched in Goa having wielded power for years before the BJP upstaged it. The Congress vibes with the local culture and ethos, Chidambaram pointed out. The TMC, on the other hand, is quintessentially a West Bengali party and is a total newcomer in Goa. Congressmen also point out that in the last Goa Assembly elections held in 2017, the Congress got 17 seats, as opposed to BJP’s tally of 13 seats. But it could not form the Government because of political horse-trading indulged in by the BJP and the State Governor’s machinations.
Also, in the last elections, the Congress showed a voter base of 28.4 per cent which, it believes, is still with it. Be that as it may, the TMC is hell-bent on winning the Goan elections. It has sent its high-profile Catholic MP, Derek O’Brien, to work in Goa. Political stars like Mahua Moitra MP and tennis champion Leader Paes will also be working. Mamata Banerjee herself will spend two days in Goa. The TMC has engaged Prashant Kishor’s political strategy group, the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), which had had a successful run in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, to advise it on tactics and strategy in Goa.
Former Congress Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, now with the TMC, will be of great help too. Following him, the entire blocklevel leadership of the Congress Party, including President Conceicao Peixote and over 170 workers, joined the TMC. Over 150 people, including leaders of the Molcornem Panchayat, joined the party in the presence of TMC’s Parliamentary leader in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien. An Independent MLA from Sanguem, Prasad Gaonkar, also joined. Giving the basic reason for these upheavals, Luizinho Faleiro said: “Democracy in India is under threat and attempts are being made to polarise the country. A change, and a credible one at that, is the need of the hour.
This can only happen under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee.” However, Goa is not India. It is only a small State. But it is, like most Indian States, a microcosm of India – diverse and well-integrated into the national mainstream. Therefore, what happens here in the political arena may well indicate what could happen at the all-India level. If Mamata Banerjee and her TMC make a mark in Goa, as representatives of the secular ideology, their future at the all-India level as the main ideological challenger of the BJP, should be bright.