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Why the biggest threat to BJP in Goa is Hindutva

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:46 IST

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, Goa has become a land of contradictions. Last year, while its governments in Maharashtra and Haryana persecuted beef consumption, its hands were tied in Goa by a beef-relishing Roman Catholic electorate.

Now, for perhaps the first time in its history, the party will confront an alternative Hindutva alliance that has emerged ahead of state elections on 4 February. The principal agenda of this alliance - all of whom have earlier helped the BJP come to power - is to defeat the party, which it has blamed for being anti-people and biased towards the Catholic church.

Regional politics

The Hindutva alliance is led by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa's oldest regional party that formed its first government after the end of the Portuguese rule in 1961. The MGP was also the current BJP government's ally, but has now broken its alliance with the party.

Also read - BJP faces uphill task to retain power in Goa, MGP set to be kingmaker

The other members are Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), set up by former RSS leader Subhash Velingkar, and Shiv Sena, BJP's ally in Maharashtra and the Centre.

Wooing the same vote base as BJP, the MGP-GSM-Sena could possibly reach out to poorer Hindu voters

Addressing the press in state capital Panaji on 5 January, MGP president Deepak Dhawalikar said that the party has withdrawn support to the BJP and that it has agreed to an 'in principle' alliance with the GSM. Seat sharing details would be chalked out over the coming week.

"We feel that the people need a regional government in Goa, where the high command is not elsewhere. It is this way in states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha too," Dhawalikar said.

MGP's voter base

In truth, the right wing alliance's roots go less to other states and more to the how Hindus have voted in the state. Since the beginning, MGP's support base has been lower caste Hindus and tenant farmers.

The MGP was powerful in Goa until the 1990s, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), under Subhash Velingkar, began introducing the BJP and leaders such as Manohar Parrikar in the state. The BJP gradually began eating into the MGP's Hindu vote base, making MGP a minor player in state politics. Today, it is most powerful in East Goa, a Hindu-dominated area that also houses fringe organisations such as the Sanatan Sanstha.

A rocky relationship

Except once in 2007, the MGP has always sided with the BJP, including in the current government.

MGP leaders Sudin and Deepak Dhawalikar, brothers, enjoy a close relationship with senior BJP leaders like Nitin Gadkari. Although MGP has just three members in the 40-member assembly and is not important for the government's stability in the house, two MLAs (the Dhawalikars brothers) were cabinet ministers.

But in the months leading to the 2017 polls they fell out with the chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, demanding that he should not be named as the BJP's CM candidate (and tacitly that Sudin should).

Eventually Parsekar used his Constitutional powers and dismissed the brothers from the cabinet.

The issues at hand

MGP's alliance with GSM was in the making for several months - Catch first reported it in September 2016.

The principal issue bringing the right-wing coalition together is over providing funds to English medium schools. The coalition favours funding to Marathi and Konkani medium schools. Velingkar had fallen out with the BJP government and the RSS leadership on this single-point agenda. MGP has supported this issue in the past, including in the 2012 polls when it teamed up with the BJP.

They blame the BJP government for siding with the Roman Catholic Church's Archdiocese in Goa in making a U-turn on an earlier promise to discontinue funds to English-medium schools. Recently, Velingkar said the BJP in Goa "conducted its politics on the advice of the Goa Archbishop".

The agenda of the alliance

Wooing the same vote base as the BJP, the MGP-GSM-Sena could possibly reach out to the poorer Hindu voters.

Speaking to Catch, MGP leader and MLA Lavoo Mamledar said that their agenda would be to portray the BJP as a government that favouring the upper classes.

BJP is clear pro-rich as seen from their policies: MGP leader Lavoo Mamledar

"You can see their policies such as on providing computer education - they are clearly pro-rich. Many lower-caste officers have not been getting promotions. BJP's development was for only one class. We want overall development," Mamledar said.

Land rights

MGP is also hoping to capitalise on discontent among agricultural tenants of Goa. In Portuguese Goa, land was held by a very small number of upper caste Hindus and Catholics, while the rest of the population were tenants. The state's first government led by the MGP had brought in the Agricultural Tenancy Act, 1964 that granted land rights to all tenants.

This Act was amended by the BJP government in 2014, which made it compulsory for all tenants to declare their tenancy rights in a three-year period, besides making other changes. After uproar from tenants, in 2015 it removed the time restriction but kept the law intact.

"We will withdraw this amendment," Mamledar told Catch. "It tried to take away land from tenants and caused a lot of trouble."

BJP to lose?

The split does not speak well for BJP's future in the state. It had come to power in 2012 after stitching an alliance between the MGP's electorate, its own Hindutva vote bank as well as the Roman Catholic votebank. With the recent developments, the first two options are in jeopardy, and it cannot rely on Catholics - last time they had voted specifically to dislodge the corrupt Congress rule.

Irrespective of the issues at hand, the split in the right wing has brought some cheer to the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, who hope to make gains in Hindu-dominated constituencies. But there's also skepticism about whether the BJP won't bring the rebel Hindutva leaders into its fold later.

State congress spokesperson Trajano D'Mello told Catch that the parties may well ally after the elections. "It has to be observed if they have a tacit understanding. They need to make their stand clear if they are still open to join handing after elections, or are they just fooling the public," D'Mello said.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 6 January 2017, 7:43 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.