THE victory of the BJP in bypolls in both the constituencies of Goa, Panaji and Valpoi, was more or less on expected lines – the difference being only in the speculated margins. The results should hopefully teach the Congress some lessons. One, that it should start working hard to rebuild support in Panaji and Valpoi. The party has virtually forsaken Panaji: it has come to depend on others to give a fight to the BJP. Even for this bypoll the party banked entirely on Babush Monserrate who switched over to the BJP side, leaving the Congress totally unprepared for the circumstances. Its frantic search identified a few candidates, not from its ranks, but they were not interested. It was almost at the last minute that the party, left with no choice, started looking inside the organization and named Girish Chodankar as its candidate. Chodankar had not worked in the constituency, so it was clear that the party was going to bank upon a few thousands of what is usually branded as “Congress votes” and just put up a respectable show. That is all the Congress was able to manage, as the bypoll results showed.
The first lesson for the Congress in the specific case of Panaji, therefore, is: Rebuild local units of the party organisation, select members with good political abilities to head them, and fight on the issues of the various localities in the capital city in particular and the city as a whole. How does a party gain the support of the voters but by fighting for the issues affecting their lives while in opposition and inspiring them with the hope that the party and its candidate will do much more if they were elected to power? It is foolish to expect people to vote merely on a party’s rhetoric during election campaign. It is indeed intriguing that the Congress has not done anything significant to revive itself in Panaji despite the fact that Manohar Parrikar has been elected several times. Parrikar’s successive victories should have driven the party to give a lot of time and energy to rebuild itself in a constituency that had been its but snatched by the BJP. But it seemed to have given up.
The party’s blind dependence on Babush Monserrate for putting up a ‘serious challenge’ to Parrikar was a sign of the party’s organizational bankruptcy in the case of Panaji. Depending on an outsider was a clear message that the party did not want to take the trouble of reviving itself organizationally in the capital city. It was going to depend on borrowed candidates. The party should have at least started working to rebuild its organisation as soon as Parrikar returned to Goan politics. It did not need a wizard to know that Parrikar was going to pick Panaji as his constituency when he would go for an election to become a member of the State Assembly. He had been elected from the constituency several times and naturally would feel more secure fighting here. Even when he went to the Centre he got his protégé Siddharth Kunkolienkar nominated and elected from Panaji. Even the novice in politics knew that that was done by Parrikar in order to keep the seat open for him if and when he felt he do more justice to himself and to Goa if he were in state politics, rather than in national politics. The very fact that Parrikar had managed to get even a protégé with no background as a parliamentary politician elected in Panaji should have humiliated the Congress enough to make it work harder in the capital city to rebuild itself to give a serious challenge to the BJP in the following elections. But they did nothing.
The second lesson the Congress should learn from the Panaji bypoll is that mere rhetoric of secularism is not going to carry the party very far. Of course, the national and social fabric of Goa and India is made of different textures and weaves and no party or force or organization or group should be allowed to rupture it. There are issues of serious concern that have gripped the nation since the BJP-led government took power at the Centre – such as killings in the name of cow protection. The display of arrogance, swagger and muscle by the extreme Hindu fringe is apparent. However, let us not forget that the large mass of people voted out the Congress government in Goa in 2012 and at the Centre in 2014 not on the grounds that they were appeasing the minorities but because they were corrupt and inefficient. The Congress will have to convince the people of Goa and the nation that they have a narrative of corruption-free and efficient governance to offer in order to win back their support.