THE elections to the state assembly might be more than a year away but the Congress has started exploring issues it could orchestrate to regain electoral support. However, the party has to tread with caution so that the issues do not boomerang on it. Making charges without substance against the BJP-led alliance would go in the ruling alliance’s favour. The morale of senior Congress leaders has not been very high since they lost power in 2012; it slipped further after the Congress-led UPA lost power at the Centre in 2014. They have maintained silence and displayed little courage in attacking the government. If the party has to attract people it has to be aggressive about showing them how the ruling alliance is not taking Goa along the right path and how the Congress can take it.
A major problem the party faces is how to enthuse its cadres who felt let down by the leaders when the party was running the government and who feel disappointed about their silence over issues on which the party should have taken the government head-on. The party will have to ensure that its cadres are trained to match the skills of the BJP workers, who derive support from the RSS and work like well-oiled machinery in winning over the electorate to their side. With party leaders failing to counter the propaganda against them on the issues of illegal mining, corruption, special economic zones and nepotism, the Congress faces a Herculean task to win back people. Much depends on the initiative, willingness and assurance of leaders to take the cadres along in making the strategy, selecting issues and preparation of the party manifesto.
It was at the insistence of the party cadres, who feel that ill-gotten wealth that was and is being pumped in the state does not augur well for the state, that the Congress executive committee and the leadership was recently forced to declare that ouster of casinos from the state would be an issue that would figure in the vision document of the party to win back voters. The issues of casinos, corruption, illegal mining and so on were used by the BJP during the last Assembly elections. The Congress would have a tough task convincing voters that it would disallow casinos in Goa. It remains to be seen if people would buy their assurance, as it was the Congress government which gave permissions to casinos, and failed to curb illegal mining and corruption in high places. Before making casinos an election issue the Congress would have to build consensus among its leaders, some of whom have mutually beneficial links with casinos. The BJP-led government sees revenue and employment provided by casinos as their plus points. The Congress would have to weigh in these factors. The issue would have to be handled wisely.
It remains to be seen whether the Congress would actually go ahead hammer and tongs against the casinos. The state leadership in all probability would have to take the high command’s blessing to include such a contentious issue in the manifesto as they could have wide-ranging repercussions on the state economic scene. By raising the issue at this moment the party seems to be trying hard to refurbish its image as a party which stands for curbing corruption and wants to close down the channels through which ill-gotten wealth flows into Goa. However, it will have to come out with alternative proposals that could make good the loss of revenue due to closure of casinos. With the global and domestic economies facing a downturn and with mining shut down for a long time the state government has been finding it hard to mobilize enough revenue for its plan and non-plan expenditure. Filling the gap created by removal of casinos won’t be easy. The tourism sector could also suffer in the process. The party would also have to explain to the people why it failed to foresee the ‘adverse impact’ of the casinos on the social fabric.
Although the Congress seems to be getting in the election mode earlier than it perhaps ever did before Assembly elections, the reality is that it has to cover a lot of ground to make up for the silence and inactivity for the past three years. The party has failed to capitalize on issues on which the BJP-led government found itself on a weak wicket. While pointing out the ruling alliance mistakes, the Congress must also make their vision clear on how they would run a corruption-free government and develop the state and work for the welfare of the people. The party is said to be planning to give at least 50 per cent of Assembly tickets to fresh faces and deny tickets to tainted characters. It remains to be seen whether the Congress party would walk the talk.