The coastal state of Goa goes to the polls on 4 February, and the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government faces an uphill task in repeating its 2012 performance.
Anti-incumbency, a revolt by the state unit of the RSS and a resurgent Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) are threatening to derail the BJP's bid to retain power in Goa.
Ever since Manohar Parrikar was persuaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead the Ministry of Defence, the party has been on the back foot. The first major setback for the party was RSS's Goa chief Subhash Velingkar's revolt against Parrikar's successor as Chief Minister, Laxmikant Parsekar, for not promoting regional languages in schools. He even sought the withdrawal of grants to English medium schools, which BJP didn't agree to, accusing Velingkar of taking Goa back to the 'stone age'.
Velingkar later went on to form his own political party, Goa Suraksha Manch, which is likely to eat into the BJP's vote share in the state. The overwhelming response to the GSM's rallies bears testimony to Velingkar's rising clout in the state.
Equation with MGP
Thereafter, Parsekar sacked two ministers of the MGP, an alliance partner of the BJP, for their outbursts against him. Led by the Dhavalikar brothers, MGP is the oldest political party in the state, and had ruled for almost 17 years.
The uncertainty over the alliance began with MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar accusing Parsekar of pushing the state backwards by 10 years during his two-and-a-half year rule. Seeking the immediate removal of Parsekar, Dhavalikar also threatened not to fight elections alongside the BJP under the leadership of the incumbent Chief Minister.
The MGP is planning to go it alone in the elections, and is witnessing a surge in popularity, which could be a cause of concern for the BJP. Between 1999 and 2005, BJP made significant inroads in the state, leading to Hindu voters switching allegiance to the saffron party.
Widely considered to be an ultra-nationalist party, MGP has been consistently raising the issue of promoting regional languages in schools and also the withdrawal of grants to English medium schools. This has found resonance with rural Goans, who are likely to vote in the MGP's favour. With the support of the rebel RSS group and the Shiv Sena, the MGP is slowly gaining ground, which is likely to hurt the BJP as well the Congress.
Even an aggressive Aam Aadmi Party is posing tough questions to the BJP and the Congress, who are likely to lose some of their vote share, particularly in urban areas.
Congress out of the race
The Congress is being considered out of the race, despite the overwhelming response Rahul Gandhi received during his pad yatra in the state. Congress leaders claim the party has not been able to sustain that momentum, and has been left far behind.
With just a month left for the polls, experts believe it would be extremely hard for the grand old party to make any sort of comeback. Even its list of candidates for the Assembly seats has not yet been finalised, and all senior leaders are camping in Delhi to get an approval from the party brass.
MGP the kingmaker
Under the prevailing circumstances, experts are not ruling out the possibility of Goa heading towards a hung Assembly. They believe the fate of the next government would depend on which way the MGP swings.
The Dhavalikar brothers are infamous for getting into alliances with the party that has the numbers. In 2007, the MGP formed government with the Congress, only to dump it before the 2012 polls, when it went with the BJP.
In these Goa polls, the MGP is most likely to play the role of kingmaker, and it would all depend which party serves the Dhavalikar brothers the best deal.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma