The pre-election scene in the two Assembly constituencies Mandrem and Shiroda, where bypolls are going to be held soon to fill the vacancies caused by the resignation of two Congress MLAs Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar who joined the BJP, is getting more and more engaging. Both the BJP and the Congress have begun preparations for the contests. It is widely expected that Sopte and Shirodkar would be the natural choices of the BJP to contest in Mandrem and Shiroda as that was promised to them by the party at the time of their crossover. The Congress is yet to draw up its shortlist and announce its candidates for the two constituencies. Although both the BJP and the Congress would like to have a direct contest, there are players coming up in between. Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party president Pandurang Dhavlikar, the younger brother of Public Works Department Minister Ramkrishna Dhavlikar, has announced his candidature in Shiroda and even begun his campaign, despite his party being a part of the ruling coalition. Junior Dhavlikar has defended his action and gone ahead to claim that his decision would not hurt the relationship of his party with the BJP. The other major partner in the coalition, the Goa Forward Party has also said it was keeping options for contesting the by-elections open.
That a coalition partner has chosen to contest one seat and the other has kept its option open to contest both indicates that the BJP would need to do a lot of work to keep its allies out of the bypolls. Two of the BJP’s senior leaders, Laxmikant Parsekar and Mahadev Naik, who lost to Sopte and Shirodkar in the last Assembly elections respectively, are threatening to fight for their seats again. If Dhavlikar contests the election from Shiroda, he will eat into the votes of the BJP as their target voters are same. The issue could be further compounded if GFP decides to jump into the fray and Mahadev Naik too contests or throws his weight behind some other candidate. Any result against the ruling side would amount to no confidence of the people against the government. With the possible division of votes threatening to upset the BJP’s apple cart, the BJP leadership would have to put its acts together at earliest to prevent not only the split of votes but also any threat to the government headed by it. The earlier a peace is brokered, the better it will be for the ruling coalition.
The Congress has not come up with the name of any candidate so far and has said that a decision on who to field would be taken only after the schedule is announced. The last-minute announcements of the candidates have been hallmark of the party for a long time and have even cost it seats in the Assembly. The party does not appear to have learnt lessons from its past mistakes and is waiting for the last moments to declare its nominees to Mandrem and Shiroda constituencies. Is the Congress leadership afraid that any candidate named beforehand could be manipulated by the ruling dispensation? Though the Congress has started holding meetings in the two constituencies which will go to polls shortly, it still appears to be banking on negative votes against the government to work in its favour. The Congress leaders have been shying away from exposing the ruling side to convince people that they are a better option; this approach may not be able to get them the expected benefits. The Congress party also appears to be banking more on division of votes in view of differences among the partners in the ruling coalition to romp home.
Bypolls in the two constituencies are going to be crucial, for the results could tilt the balance in favour of any party that wins them. Hence both parties are going to put in all efforts to romp home victorious. The BJP has much at stake in the bypolls as victory in both will help it become the single largest party. It will also help the BJP to reduce its dependence on allies and push through its agenda more forcefully. It remains to be seen how the BJP leadership manages to control the rebellion from within and anti-incumbency. To achieve its objectives the BJP would also have to iron out differences within the coalition. If the Congress wins both seats, it will emerge as the single largest party and may revive its demand that it should be called to form the government.