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Goa polls: With Congress & BJP struggling, MGP's fortunes are on the rise

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

As the political scene heats up in Goa, the ruling BJP and the principal opposition Congress have rushed their strategists to take stock of situation amid reports of growing dissidence within their ranks. Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh and Union minister for Shipping and Road Transport Nitin Gadkari are in Goa to assess the situation on ground and possible damage control.

Facing stiff resistance from former RSS Goa chief Subhash Velingkar, who has threatened to launch his own political outfit and vowed to stop the ruling party from returning to power, BJP is worried over its prospects in the poll bound states. Even the Congress is unnerved by rumours of its leaders quitting the party right before the elections.

Amid all this, Goa' oldest party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), is quietly mobilising support and reportedly in talks with BJP and Congress leaders who are ready to switch sides. MGP leaders are also contemplating fighting elections alone and with the backing of the rebel RSS group there is a great likelihood of the party becoming the game changer in the upcoming elections.

MGP is being wooed by Congress, BJP as well as the rebel RSS group

Currently, an ally of BJP, MGP has three legislators in the assembly and is being wooed by both the Congress and BJP. While speaking to Catch earlier, MGP's senior leader and PWD minister in the BJP-led coalition government, Ramkrishna Dhavalikar, said the party would contest elections with BJP, but also supported Velingkar. Sources have informed Catch that the rebel RSS group could also mobilise support for MGP and Velingkar.

Having been in the shadow of BJP and Congress for the last 14 years, MGP was the first party to rule Goa after it gained independence from Portuguese in 1961. With support of non-Brahmin Hindus, who make for a large part of the poor Goans, the party ruled the state for 17 years after liberation and then lost out to the two national parties who had far greater resources.

Between 1999 and 2005, most Hindu voters began supporting the BJP leading to a drastic drop in MGP's electoral fortunes. Alliance with BJP gave the saffron party a chance to eat into MGP's vote share and the party has since been a shadow of its former self. From 10 seats in 1994, it was reduced to four seats by 1999 while BJP won 10 seats.

In 2007, MGP supported the Congress and then switched allegiance to BJP. BJP won the 2012 elections when Gadkari managed to successfully stitch together a coalition with MGP. However, the re-emergence of MGP as a force in Goa politics has had both the BJP and Congress worried amid reports of leaders from both parties sending feelers to MGP leadership.

Looking at the ground situation the possibility of MGP going alone is not being ruled out and if it does, it is likely to eat into BJP's vote share. Insiders claim it is for this reason that the party has deputed Gadkari, who has recently been appointed as Goa in-charge, to put BJP's house in order before the crucial elections. Also his more than cordial relations with Dhavalikar brothers of the MGP prompted the party to take the decision.

Velingkar's rebellion

Interestingly, Velingkar had earlier criticised Gadkari for his ouster while a senior RSS leader blamed the Union minister for misleading Nagpur over the developments in the state. With Gadkari at the helm of affairs, it remains to be seen how the RSS reacts to his visit.

Ever since Velingkar raised the banner of revolt against the incumbent chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar for not implementing the Medium of Instruction (MoI) in regional language and withdrawing grants to English-medium schools, BJP strategists have been a worried lot over the rebellion within the RSS ranks and its impact on party's prospects in the upcoming assembly polls.

The RSS leadership and its cadres are backing Velingkar and if his outfit does contest elections, it could dent the saffron party's support base in rural Goa. These developments have made BJP extremely vulnerable to the first revolt within the RSS. Upping the ante, Velingkar has even given a call to RSS cadres to boycott the BJP which is likely to have serious political ramifications.

Even Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh will visit Goa on 23 September and hold crucial meetings with party leaders. Congress.' state in-charge Singh too will land up in Goa on 24 September and will be addressing senior party leaders amid reports of some of party's legislators joining MGP. Also, Congress is trying hard to have some sort of a political understanding with MGP before the polls and Singh is expected to reach out to the Dhavalikar brothers for the same.

First published: 22 September 2016, 8:58 IST