Goa is a fairly unusual state as far as political equations go. The panchayats and their constituents are very powerful in their areas. As far as potential candidates are concerned, they have little chance at the hustings unless the panchayat is with them.
A major election issue this time is demonetisation. From the poor, to the middle strata, and to the business community, all are bitter about notebandi. The queues were less in Goa in terms of the weeks they lasted, but they were a serious problem nonetheless.
Whether it was a helper in a department store, a waiter in a restaurant, a cab driver, a doctor, an owner of an eatery, or a group of businessmen, they all were unanimous on one thing - that notebandi was an unmitigated disaster.
The lesson that virtually all drew from this crisis was that the BJP was going to suffer badly in the early February elections scheduled in the state.
A party in disarray
The BJP is in a disarray of sorts. For example, Subhash Velingkar, the driving force behind the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), which is almost an entirely RSS body, is openly targeting the BJP. As the headlines in The Navhind Times quoted Velingkar, "Cent per cent RSS cadre in this region is against BJP."
This is a deadly blow to the ruling party. Important RSS cadre are shifting to the GSM. Krishnaraj 'Raju' Sukerkar, a senior member of the RSS from the Goa region and a close confidante of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, has agreed to contest the Assembly election from Panaji constituency as a GSM candidate.
Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar has got the national leadership to agree to have around 25% of its candidates from the Catholic community, following the traditional policy of its rival, the Congress.
But the Catholic priests including the Archbishop of Goa have been very critical of the Parsekar government. So the Catholic card may not work as well as the BJP is hoping for.
The Catholic leadership is very keen on a fund support to teach English in schools, which the government stalled. People of most strata and communities support English teaching barring the BJP and GSM. And this will be another important issue in the coming polls in early February.
Others in battle
The major contender in the upcoming poll appears to be the Congress and behind them is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). But AAP support seems to be scattered, and their principled approach to not have any alliances will work against them.
Though Arvind Kejriwal has made several visits to Goa, his organisation has not penetrated enough panchayats or gotten enough stalwarts on board to prove a major alternative to the Congress. Kejriwal's speeches have focussed on AAP's performance in Delhi, rather than taking up the major issues troubling the Goans.
Basically, the AAP's Goan organisation is relatively weak despite its formidable CM candidate Elvis Gomes, who is widely respected.
About the Congress, there is a feeling that it may be corrupt, but it is sincerely committed to the development of Goa. It is a party Goans are used to and understand well.
Smaller parties like the GSM, Goa Forward Party, etc. at most will be spoilers. GSM will further damage the BJP, which is already unpopular with the people over the rigours and tribulations they faced during demonetisation.
So that's the lineup of the Goa election - Congress the likely winner, AAP is likely to come in at second place, and the BJP trailing.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen