The threat of silent undercutting by the party’s ex-MLAs notwithstanding, the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to ‘honour the word’ given to the two former Congress MLAs Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar when they switched over to the party to nominate them as party candidates for the expected bypolls in their respective constituencies, Mandrem and Shiroda. The resignation of the two had helped the BJP check the Congress party’s moves to form an alternative government on the plea that it was the single largest party. The decision to nominate Sopte and Shirodkar as party candidates was confirmed during the recent visit of BJP national president Amit Shah to the state. Though a formal announcement is yet to be made, the BJP cadres have been told to work for their success. By nominating the two, the BJP wants to send down a message to other MLAs in the opposition camp that the party would ‘honour the commitment’ it gives to any MLA who leaves their party to join it. That is the way the BJP leadership thinks it can weaken the opposition parties to keep itself in power. The party leadership is so eager to send down that message that it has dropped the winnability criterion, which is always an important criterion in selection of candidates, in the nomination of Shirodkar and Sopte.
The party’s decision to nominate Sopte and Shirodkar means its ex-MLAs from Mandrem and Shiroda – Laxmikant Parsekar and Mahadev Naik – would have to sit on the fences. It is unlikely that the two would take the party’s ‘imposition’ lying down. While Parsekar has made it known that he would not support Sopte at any cost, Naik has kept his options open to join another party. That means the BJP could find the going tough in the bypolls. To add to the party woes, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, a longstanding ally of the BJP, has decided to fight the by-polls ‘to teach defectors a lesson.’ The MGP has ignored the pressures from the BJP and other allies and stuck to its decision. The MGP move would certainly hurt the BJP’s prospects and may even threaten the stability of the government in case the BJP loses the two seats. The MGP leadership obviously sees a chance to enhance its tally in the Assembly and its negotiating power to ask the BJP to pay a higher price for the partnership or to leave to get what it wants from the Congress.
Though the BJP has selected its nominees, the Congress is still groping in the dark for the ‘right’ candidates who would defeat the ‘deserters’ Sopte and Shirodkar. The Congress in Goa has been known for waking up to name its candidates at the eleventh hour. The party has suffered reverses in the past as a consequence because candidates do not get enough time to build up their campaign and reach out to voters. There are no signs that the party has learnt any lesson from its past mistakes. Nobody knows the face of its candidates, while candidates of other parties are in the middle of their campaigns in the constituencies, holding meetings and enlisting workers for canvassing. The impression gaining ground is that the Congress is unable to find ‘strong’ candidates as the organization is shattered, weakened and demoralized in the two constituencies by the desertions of its MLAs who have taken away a large number of party workers and supporters with them. Even if that is the case, the party should name a candidate in either of the constituencies, a young or known face, and rebuild its support. That is a challenge, and the Congress seems to be shying away from that. Is the party looking for an easy way out, – switch of BJP ex-MLAs to its side?
The stake is high for both the BJP and the Congress in the bypolls. An increase in tally could strengthen the position of either party and will make them stronger and choosy about allies. However, from the facts mentioned above it is evident that neither the BJP nor the Congress is in an absolutely winnable situation in the Mandrem and Shiroda constituencies. It could be that the MGP gains in the confusion. Goa Forward Party leader Vijai Sardesai has warned that the stability of the government could be threatened in case the MGP contests against BJP nominees. It remains to be seen whether the BJP can make the MGP withdraw from the contest. If it does not succeed in its efforts, the state could expect surprises in the bypolls and thereafter.