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BJP Wins Both Seats in Bypoll, But Congress Remains Single Largest Party in Goa

The by-election victory has taken the BJP’s tally up by one seat only, to 14 MLAs. With 16 seats, the Congress is still the single largest party in the 40-member House.

BJP won the Panaji and Valpoi seats that went to polls on August 23. Credit: Twitter/@visrane

BJP won the Panaji and Valpoi seats that went to polls on August 23. Credit: Twitter/@visrane

Panaji: The BJP has won both the seats in Goa that went for by-elections on August 23. Chief minister Manohar Parrikar managed to retain the Panaji seat that he had won five times previously and has been with the BJP for 23 years. He defeated the Congress’ Girish Chodankar by a margin of 4,800 votes.

A BJP MLA had resigned from the Panaji seat for Parrikar to contest after he stepped down from the Union defence minister’s post to return to Goa as chief minister.

In Valpoi – the other seat that went for by-election – the former Congress chief minister Pratapsingh Rane’s son Vishvajit, who defected to the BJP, painted the once Congress ‘bastion’ saffron. Rane Jr (as he is known in media circles here) won the seat with a margin of over 10,000 votes, leaving his Congress opponent, Roy Naik, trailing far behind.

Though Congress supporters were banking on putting up a ‘strong fight’, a sense of the inevitable could be felt in the run-up to the bypolls. Parrikar and his health minister, backed by the full-throttled power of the state, were pitted against two rank outsiders. Both Congress candidates were from outside the constituencies, making it an unequal contest from the get go. Just weeks before the election, former Congress minister Babush Monserrate, who was expected to take on Parrikar in Panaji, switched camps and moved to the Goa Forward Party, which is tied up with the BJP. Other prospective candidates too wilted under pressure, drawing censure from Goa RSS leader Subhash Velingkar, who accused the chief minister of using coercive tactics.

After it lost the February 4 election in Goa – the BJP had won just 13 seats to the Congress’s 17, but managed to cobble up an alliance to grab power – the saffron party has been desperately trying to reshape the political contours in this state by poaching Congress MLAs with the bait of cabinet posts. Vishvajit took the bait with little hesitation. He resigned as an MLA, jumped ship and was soon made a minister in the Parrikar government.

Predictably, Parrikar is selling the bypoll victory as an “endorsement” of his government. “In a democracy, the numbers count and right now the ruling coalition has 23 members,” which gave it “moral strength,” he told the media after the vote count. In truth, however, the by-election has taken the BJP’s tally up by one seat only, to 14 MLAs. With 16 seats, the Congress is still the single largest party in the 40-member House.

“Nothing has changed as far as we are concerned,” AICC secretary A. Chella Kumar told The Wire. “We were 16 seats when Vishvajit left, we continue to have 16 seats.”

Defeating the chief minister in a constituency that has remained saffron – though not always with significant vote margins – for almost a quarter century was always going to be a tough prospect for the Congress. But the BJP’s questionable manner of coming to power in Goa and the fallout of the lynching deaths in other parts of the country have cost Parrikar a sizeable chunk of Catholic votes as well as the trust of the Church. An article that appeared a few days before the election in the church magazine Renovação warned voters against the rise of  “nationwide fascism”.

Significantly, the chief minister’s vote count declined from the 11,086 he polled in 2012 to 9862 in this election, even though he had Monserrate working for him behind the scenes. The shift in favour of the Congress no doubt came from the ‘minorities’ vote that had backed Parrikar so convincingly in 2012. It is something that should worry the BJP leader in a state where more than a quarter of the electorate is made up of minorities.

Though the Congress lost both the seats, its decision to field former Youth Congress leader Chodankar – a party loyalist with a clean image – against Parrikar earned it quite a groundswell of support and sympathy. Fighting against the odds in a constituency he’s hardly familiar with, Chodankar spent two weeks in a house-to-house campaign and polled over 5,000 votes, one of the highest counts the Congress has ever managed in Panaji.

Where the Congress has been sorely wounded is in Valpoi. Having lost Pratapsingh’s ambitious son to the BJP, the Congress could well be staring at the loss of at least three seats to the saffron party in this part of interior Goa in the future if it doesn’t work to counter the Ranes’ influence in the Sattari taluka.

Monday’s victory may have given Parrikar some respite, but considering he is tied up with the allies (three Goa Forward, three Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and three independents) that have switched sides and tweaked their ‘ideologies’ at the drop of a hat, the BJP chief minister will be constantly looking over his shoulder, unless of course he manages with inducements to lure more Congress MLAs to tilt the scales.