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Goa BJP banks on split in Christian vote, PM Narendra Modi’s image

Goa BJP banks on split in Christian vote, PM Narendra Modi’s image

Mumbai: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa is pinning hopes of winning next month’s assembly elections on a split in the Christian vote, a dispirited Congress and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image as a crusader against corruption. Goa goes to polls on 4 February though the results will only be declared on 11 March, along with those of four other states. The BJP, which won 21 seats in the 40-member Goa assembly in the 2012 polls, faces a challenge from the Congress, debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and a three-party alliance between Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) rebel Subhash Vekingkar’s Goa Suraksha Manch, Shiv Sena and Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP). The MGP declared on Thursday that it was breaking its five-year-old alliance with the BJP and joining the GSM-led platform. A Goa BJP functionary, who did not want to be named, said the party was confident of returning to power. “We faced serious trouble about two months back after Subhash Velingkar launched GSM and took away with him a large number of dedicated RSS workers. But his rebellion has now virtually dissipated. Not many RSS and BJP supporters are with him. AAP posed some challenge about three months back but it has lost any chance of a good show after Kejriwal’s tantrums over demonetisation. Also AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Elvis Gomes has corruption charges against him,” he said. The functionary said the Congress was so demoralized in Goa that one of its legislators Mauvin Godinho joined the BJP two days after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi held a rally in Goa. The BJP is also banking on a possible split in the Christian vote which is the most consolidated and significant constituency in this coastal state. Of Goa’s 1.3 million population, nearly 25% are Christians. In the 2012 election, according to the Goa BJP, 5-to-8% of Christians voted for the party, impressed by its anti-illegal mining position and Parrikar’s clean image. The BJP, according to the leader quoted above, is not confident of getting this quantum of support from the Christians this time. “We suspect and indeed hope that the Christian vote gets divided between Congress and AAP. In any case, we will surely get at least 4% of the Christian vote,” said the BJP leader. A Goa Congress functionary, seeking anonymity, concurred with this view but added that the BJP was wrong in thinking that it would get “winning” support from non-Christian voters. “We are indeed worried about the possible split in the Catholic vote that may eventually help the BJP, but the BJP is underestimating anti-incumbency and its underperformance of five years,” said the Congress leader. In this election of personalities, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal has made five visits to Goa in the last eight months, Rahul Gandhi has held one rally, and Modi is likely to address two public meetings. The BJP is investing great hope in its two trump cards—Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar. Indeed, Parrikar, a former chief minister, is part of the BJP’s core election committee and has spent several days camping and campaigning in Goa. Though he has ruled himself out of the chief ministerial race, Parrikar’s popularity is the BJP’S big plus in Goa especially when pitched against AAP, according to a Maharashtra BJP leader who will likely campaign in Goa due to his proximity to the state. “We also expect support for Modi and demonetisation in Goa more than any other state because the issue of corruption has great resonance in Goa,” said this leader. Paresh Prabhu, editor of Goa’s leading Marathi daily Navprabha, does not buy the BJP argument that demonetisation would have a favourable impact for the party in the polls. “On the contrary, it may have an adverse impact because the tourism industry in Goa has been hit very hard. I have seen long queues of tourists outside ATMs (automated teller machines) and that certainly is not a sign of demonetisation working for the BJP. Also, the Union budget presentation on 1 February may have a negative impact in an alert state like Goa because people here may feel the BJP is using the government machinery for political ends,” Prabhu said.

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