Of all the parties in the contest, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was in a position to make the biggest impact in this election in Goa. Starting off with a clean slate and a small army of faithful storm troopers, AAP has been on the ground for nearly five years. Time enough, one would think, to draw up a plan, figure out the candidates (entirely new, clean faces) and study the local issues, to get a grip on the political map so to speak. It could have brought the real political change it sold as a doable concept in the 2011 India Against Corruption agitation before it morphed into just another political party headed by a leader with growing pan-India ambitions.
But AAP has gone from blunder to political blunder in Goa. After nudging out its former convenor Elvis Gomes (who’s moved to the Congress since) on the advice of media lobbyists who said his “Catholic face” had become a liability for a party that also wanted a stake in the majority vote, AAP decided to adopt the late BJP leader Manohar Parrikar and his development agenda (some of which it had protested forcefully against), to “send out the right signals”. It did indeed signal the departure of the party’s most popular and media-savvy face, Dr Oscar Rebello.
After rolling out a slew of promises for more state-sponsored freebies, notional at best because the party hasn’t a single seat here, Arvind Kejriwal has decided to play the caste and religion card in Goa, reserving the chief minister’s chair for someone from the Bhandari community, and the deputy chief minister for a Catholic face. By this muddled (or perhaps deliberate) logic, the AAP chooses to reduce the Catholics in Goa to second-class citizens. They have the constitutional right to vote (votes which the AAP wants) but no democratic right at all to aspire to the chief minister’s chair. This from a party that not a few weeks ago was so desperately trying to score the defection of the Congress’ Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco to become the face of AAP in Goa.
There’s already been a backlash from Bhandari leaders in Goa to the latest polarising tactics by the Delhi chief minister who’s now selling himself as the new icon of Hindutva, with an eye on competing in the toxic saffron politics in Uttar Pradesh. Four states go to elections next year, UP, Punjab and Uttarkhand apart from Goa.
Kejriwal said, equating Hinduism with Hindutva.
Absurd as it is, AAP’s socio-religious play in Goa pointedly discriminates against one of its most loyal foot-soldiers, Valmiki Naik, who merely by his caste-belief combination is rendered ineligible to become a chief minister or even deputy chief minister in an AAP government.
The BJP’s criteria for selecting chief ministers only from the RSS cadres (it has made a few exceptions to this in some states) saddled Goa with two inept candidates, Laxmikant Parsekar and the current chief minister. “Sawant is not CM material. The only reason he became one is because he was backed by the RSS, and was the only man from the cadres (in the legislature party)”, Michael Lobo told this journalist. The Calangute MLA knows there’s no upward mobility for those not sworn to saffron within the BJP. More so for a Catholic. His strident dissent against the party could see him bailout.
Talks with the regional party were on at the highest level of the BJP’s central leadership, Sadanand Shet Tanavade confirmed.
In the 2017 election, it was not the Catholics (who outweighed elected Hindu faces in the BJP’s 13) who checked out of the saffron party, but the Bahujan samaj, angered by Parrikar’s committed patronage mostly to Saraswat appointees in government. Soon after his rise to power, Sawant launched a purge of the GSBs in positions of influence. How this will play out, particularly in the Panjim seat where Utpal Parrikar is making a bid for the BJP ticket, adds an interesting dimension to the contest. Outside the Monserrates’ Taleigao office, the banners playing up the faces of the political triad: Babush, Jennifer and Rohit have pointedly omitted the party symbol.
Four Catholics have served as chief ministers in Goa: Luis Proto Barbosa, Churchill Alemao (just 18 days), Wilfred D’Souza (thrice) and Luizinho Faleiro (twice), a testimony to its composite culture which is increasingly sought to be negated with the calculated promotion of identity politics. So long as the Catholics in Goa and other non-majority groups see themselves merely as “minorities”, rather than equal citizens, they’ll be playing for their ghettoed votes.