Under the spectre of Covid-19, the two national parties in Goa, the Congress and the BJP, are gearing up for the upcoming state assembly polls.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party office bearers and MLAs went into a long huddle on Friday under the leadership of its two national general secretaries BL Santosh and CT Ravi, the All India Congress Committee in-charge of the Goa desk, Dinesh Gundu Rao is expected to visit the coastal state in the coming week, to chalk out the strategy for the polls, which are scheduled to be held in early 2022.
Speaking to IANS, state Congress President Girish Chodankar said that the Congess had already formed a shortlist of candidates for all the 40 assembly constituencies, but underlined that none of the 13 MLAs who quit the party to join the BJP since 2017, would be allotted tickets.
“Every time these party-hoppers have quit the party only to join back ahead of elections. This time though will be different. People will not accept their return. We have to win the trust of the people on this count. 70 to 80 per cent of the candidates will be youngsters and new faces,” Chodankar said.
Ten Congress MLAs joined the BJP en masse in 2019.
Speaking about the agenda before Gundu Rao next week, Chodankar said that the aim was to put the organisation in the “mood for elections”.
“We have carried out a series of protests against poor decisions of this government, we have also exposed the wrongdoings and acts of corruption. Now it is time to change gears and get into election mode,” he said.
The BJP on the other hand is confident of making a comeback, even as a senior official said on condition of anonymity, that the party was in the process of reconsidering Chief Minister Pramod Sawant as the party’s face for the upcoming poll.
“The government’s management of the second Covid wave was found wanting. Its image has taken a beating. We have given the Chief Minister and his Ministers another opportunity to redeem themselves. The BJP is not at all short of leaders for the top job,” the party official said.
Several hundred patients died during the second Covid wave — including dozens due to lack of oxygen — even as the state’s positivity rate topped the national charts, triggering an avalanche of criticism of the government’s pandemic handling abilities.
During their day-long interaction with state BJP office bearers and MLAs, both Santosh and Ravi have drilled in the importance of salvaging the state government’s image ahead of the poll. Each MLA was allotted 15 minutes for a one-to-one with the top national leaders.
“The leaders sought an update on the development activities in my constituency related to the next election,” Revenue Minister Jennifer Monserrate said after meeting the top duo on Friday.
Emerging briefly from the meeting to interact with reporters, CT Ravi even tried to emphasise that while his party’s Goa government had the Covid crisis well, the three-party Maharashtra government had failed in its task miserably citing the number of deaths in the bigger state, despite reporters reminding him about the massive difference in the size and populations of the two states.
While Maharashtra has a population of 12 crore, Goa has a population of approximately 15 lakh.
Speaking about the party’s preparation for the 2022 polls, Ravi also said that elections were not the only agenda which the BJP is focussed on.
“The BJP is not just there for elections. We also work under the motto of ‘Sewa hi Sangathan’. There are other parties who work only for elections. We do not do that. This party is for the people.”
Apart from image management, the key questions before the BJP includesAhandling of 10 Congress rebels, many of them from traditional minority bastions, as well as the ongoing rift between Chief Minister Sawant and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane.
The party has received a shot in the arm, with an open offer made by Independent MLA and a Minister in the BJP-led government Govind Gaude to join the BJP ahead of the 2022 elections.
“The party (BJP) has to take a call. If the party gives me (go ahead) definitely,” he said, after meeting Santosh and Ravi, when asked about the possibility of him contesting the elections on a BJP ticket.
While leaders of both parties have preferred to keep the option of alliances open so far, they however differed on the issue of whether the Covid pandemic, especially the high death count and the economic and social distress caused by the pandemic, could have an impact on the elections.
“Pandemic is there in Europe, US, across the world. Not just in India. It is there in every region… In one year, two vaccines have been manufactured in India. What the administration can do and leadership can do, has been done,” Ravi said, while fully backing the performance of his party in handling Covid.
Chodankar however said that the BJP’s chances of winning 2022 were grim, claiming the government was callous and criminally negligent.
“The government’s poor handling of the crisis has actually added to the stress caused by the pandemic. Every business community from the lowest to highest level are annoyed with this government. Even the youth are frustrated on account of the unemployment rate.”