Listen to this article:
Panaji: The Trinamool Congress (TMC), a latecomer to the electoral contest in Goa, released its first list of candidates on January 18. Among the 11 names hurriedly declared, TMC’s newly minted Rajya Sabha MP Luizinho Faleiro’s stands out. One of the candidates made it to the list within an hour of resigning from his local party.
Faleiro is pitched to contest against Goa Forward Party’s (GFP) leader Vijai Sardesai from the Fatorda constituency.
GFP – which won three seats in 2017 – was among the first regional parties to have been approached by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for a merger or a pre-election tie-up. Both were turned down. Sardesai is now in an alliance with the Congress, which has so far given him three seats.
TMC’s payback strategy: to unsettle Sardesai and pit Faleiro into a contest he has no stomach for – he had told this journalist he would not be standing for local elections after he became MP.
The TMC MP did not respond to calls, neither did the party’s Goa election in-charge Mahua Moitra.
Calling TMC’s move a deliberate ploy to try and bring him down after he spurned their advances, Sardesai told The Wire he refused “to be taken at gunpoint by a Bengali party. Their agenda has been exposed. They are here to only split the non-BJP vote.”
Soon after the announcement of Faleiro’s candidature, the GFP leader received a message from TMC’s poll consultant Prashant Kishor, who has been driving the party’s strategy in Goa.
Kishor had been to Sardesai’s house not once, but thrice, the message said. “You still chose Congress, a party that gave you nothing. You made your choices, we are reacting to it,” he added.
Running an aggressive and expensive poster and media campaign, TMC is learning that deep pockets and paid news alone don’t buy local acceptance, especially in a small state like Goa, which is wary of “outsiders” calling the shots in politics, government and state policy. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) met with similar hostility in 2017 when it contested 39 of 40 seats and drew a blank.
Some promising candidates – most notable among them are former Congress MLA Reginaldo Lourenco, former MGP member Lavoo Mamledar, former independent MLA Prasad Gaonkar – who were proposing to join the TMC or had joined the party, abandoned ship.
Within a month, Lourenco opted out from the party, saying he had faced “a backlash from people” who wanted him to return to the Congress. The appeal didn’t cut much ice with the Congress though, which denied him a ticket. He will now contest as an independent from Curtorim constituency.
TMC’s “lavish and aggressive campaign” and poaching of MLAs has been criticised not only by the Congress which turned down its recent overtures for an alliance, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too, which lost its long-time ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to a tie-up of convenience with Banerjee’s party.
BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis on January 20, Thursday said Goa has rejected TMC’s “manner of politics”. “The aggression they have shown and the manner in which they have come with suitcases as if Goa’s leaders are for sale in the market cannot inspire confidence in the people.”
Considering past history, the MGP could go any which way if no party gains a majority.
In an interview to PTI recently, Congress leader P. Chidambaram argued that neither AAP nor TMC had a cadre base in the constituencies. “They have attempted to build their parties through defections from the other parties, notably the Congress.”
With time running out and a strategy designed for disruption, primarily in seats where the Congress has a strong presence, TMC could end up weakening the fight against the BJP far more than AAP, which is trying its hand possibly in all 40 seats, giving the saffron party a shot at recouping from the strong anti-incumbent sentiment in Goa. Most of Goa’s 40 constituencies have a voter base of less than 30,000. A thousand votes taken away can make or break a winning candidate.
In a bitter contest over the secular vote, the last-minute arrival of the Nationalist Congress Party-Shiv Sena combine gives rebels from all corners a chance to dive into the mix.