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Ripe for the picking: why AAP is confident of winning Goa in 2017

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 17 April 2016, 14:26 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party has decided to contest the Goa assembly election in March 2017. This will be AAP's third state foray, after Delhi and Punjab. If you are wondering how and why they thought of Goa, recent developments might shed some light.

In early 2012, a Rs 35,000-crore iron ore mining scam under the Congress government was unearthed. Promising to weed out such corruption from the system, the BJP decimated the Congress in the polls held in March that year. In October 2012, the Supreme Court banned mining in the state.

Now, Goa's mining areas are again on the boil. The residents are objecting to the transportation of iron ore which was mined before 2012 and is now being auctioned as per the Supreme Court's orders. The people allege that freshly mined ore is being siphoned off as old, and they are demanding that local cooperatives be given control over all mining activities.

Matters reached a flashpoint in late March when a young sarpanch, detained for blocking iron ore trucks, was blindfolded and beaten up in jail.

On 11 April, Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar intervened, meeting the villagers in the state assembly and assuring them that no more ore will be transported until their demands are considered.

The next morning, the people realised that Parsekar's words were hollow. The ore continued to be transported. For some this wasn't surprising as the local BJP legislator is known to have ties with transport contractors.

By some witness accounts, Parsekar held another meeting with some villagers, this time in his office, and quietly watched as agents of mining companies hijacked the meeting.

This sense of deja vu - the BJP regime being quite similar to the previous Congress government - is what AAP hopes to capitalise on in 2017.

High hopes

The party hopes that Goans, angered by the Congress' corruption and the BJP's failure to act against it, will seek an alternative in the coming polls - and it seeks to be that alternative.

Indeed, even though the BJP's victory was largely down to its stand on the mining scam, the party has done little about it while in power.

Prosecution of the accused has moved at a snail's pace. Congress ministers, including the previous chief minister Digambar Kamat who was accused by the Supreme Court's Justice MB Shah Commission of being involved in the scam, have barely faced the heat. In 2015, the anti-corruption bureau closed its investigation against Kamat and half a dozen former ministers and top bureaucrats.

And it's not just mining. The BJP has followed in the Congress' footsteps on more than one issue.

Take, for example, the land development plan, known as the Regional Plan for Goa, 2021 or RP-21, which the Congress government had introduced. The plan was widely perceived to have been compromised to favour real estate interests - both in tourism and housing - and was eventually kept in abeyance.

During the 2012 election campaign, the BJP promised to scrap this plan and draft a fresh one if voted to power. But after sitting on it for over three years, it reopened, in December 2015, the same plan for public feedback (the plan's maps still bore the signature of Kamat).

"Everywhere we have gone people have said they don't want the BJP again, and the Congress has been non-existent as an opposition," said Valmiki Naik, state secretary of AAP. "Both BJP and the Congress have through the builder lobby attempted to concretise every square metre of land. They also brazenly violate regulations. We have our own draft plan of the RP-21 ready, made by eminent architect and planners."

In '12, BJP and Congress won 82% of all seats and 75% of the vote. Will AAP break the duopoly in '17?

The party plans to contest all 40 seats in the state. AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is slated to hold rallies in Goa in May, Naik said.

The party's general secretary Pankaj Gupta has been regularly travelling to Goa and consulting local leaders and volunteers. He has held meetings with volunteers in constituencies like Navelim, which in the last election elected an independent MLA over Congress strongman and former chief minister Churchill Alemao.

"Goans have typically voted against the ruling party. This time they clearly want to vote for an alternative," Naik said. "We need to show that AAP is their best alternative."

It may not be easy.

Uphill task

The Congress and the BJP are Goa's largest parties. And since the 1990s, barring a few years of unstable governments, they have alternated in power. The BJP has been on a strong footing ever since Manohar Parrikar led it to victory in 2000.

In 2012, the two parties cornered 82% of the assembly seats and 75% of the vote. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won both seats, while the lone Rajya Sabha seat is with the Congress.

The rest of the vote is shared by smaller parties like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (which gave Goa its first chief minister), the Goa Vikas Party, Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and Independents.

A veteran Congress leader from Goa explained that election results are often swayed by a few hundred votes, many of which are cornered by these smaller parties and independents. The state has just about 10 lakh voters.

"In Goa, there are strongmen in both the BJP and the Congress who sway results by buying a thousand votes on the eve of the election," the leader claimed.

Ruling out the possibility of AAP winning the election, the leader said it would instead cut into the votes of both the BJP and the Congress, making the result unpredictable.

AAP's chances of victory will, thus, depend on how the BJP and Congress manage alliances with the smaller parties.

AAP stands no chance. In Goa, a party must work for 10-15 years to win polls: Vinay Tendulkar, BJP

The MGP, for example, broke away from the Congress in 2012 and has teamed up with the BJP ever since. The NCP allies with the Congress. The Shiv Sena recently said it will fight 10 seats on its own.

The Congress leader said his party is in talks with all the smaller parties for alliances.

Finally, as with all new political parties, AAP lacks a strong organisation on the ground. It has just about 600 volunteers, but aims to add another 3,000 before the election.

It also does not have a popular leader except Oscar Rebello, a doctor from Panjim and an activist. Although he is a popular speaker, he does not have unanimous appeal even among the party's volunteers. Valmiki Naik said it is "too early" to speak about who the party's chief ministerial candidate or main campaigners would be.

"The AAP does not have any organisation here. In Goa, you need to work for 10-15 years as a party before winning elections," said Vinay Tendulkar, BJP's state chief.

"During the Lok Sabha election, AAP got 1,000-1,500 votes in many assembly constituencies, and barely 300-odd in a few, while we got over 3,000 in each constituency. The next election will purely be between the Congress and BJP," Tendulkar asserted.

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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First published: 17 April 2016, 14:26 IST
 
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.

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