Voters do not care for moral questions about candidates
The victory of three of the four nominees of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the by-polls to the Assembly has increased the party’s number in the House from 14 to 17, boosting the stability of the government led by it. The BJP won Mandrem, Mapusa and Shiroda, losing Panaji to the Congress. The BJP would now be less dependent on the support of its allies and hence can stand pressure from them better. We have to see how the increased tally shapes up its relationship with the allies. The BJP can also derive legitimate pleasure from the results in Mandrem and Shiroda. These two seats had been won by the Congress in the March 2017 elections. Their MLAs switched sides and fought on BJP tickets and won. That showed that the BJP had adopted a better strategy than the Congress in these constituencies. However, in Panaji it was humiliation for the BJP, which lost the seat it had held for a quarter of a century. In this constituency the Congress inducted lone-ranger Atanasio Monserrate, who was in the ruling camp until yesterday, into the party to give him the ticket, betting on his ingenious private election machine.
Monserrate had boasted before elections that the BJP-led government in the state would cease to exist after May 23. With the NDA government back in power at the Centre that is unlikely to happen. The numbers make it unlikely too: after the by-polls, the BJP has 17 members in the House and the Congress only 15. BJP state president Vinay Tendulkar has boasted that “a group of Congress MLAs” are ready to join the BJP. This has a greater possibility than the Congress getting a group of BJP MLAs to topple the government. After all, the victory of Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar from Mandrem and Shiroda respectively has shown that voters do not have a negative image of their MLAs when they switch parties. The BJP state and national leaders who gave tickets to Sopte and Shirodkar ignoring their party men are sure to be emboldened by their success to try and lure more MLAs from the Congress as and when they need more. They now know that all the cries of the Congress about the BJP indulging in immoral act of buying off their MLAs will have no effect on the minds of the voters as long as the candidate has his hold on them and as long as the party can manage the election campaign well.
Apart from ‘defection’ there were two other moral issues raised in the by-polls. One was about the criminal antecedents of Congress candidate in Panaji Atanasio Monserrate. The BJP election campaign did everything they could to convey to the voters that Monserrate had a shady past and was even accused of rape. But a majority of those who voted in Panaji ignored the shady aspect of Monserrate’s background. The other moral question that was thrown to the BJP when it nominated Joshua D’Souza, son of the late Francisco D’Souza, for Mapusa was of promoting ‘vamshvad’ or dynastic succession. The opposition assailed the BJP for having double standards – criticizing the Congress for dynastic rule on the one hand and promoting dynastic rule in Mapusa on the other. However, the voters of Mapusa were not influenced by the accusation.
Now that the BJP-led government has got a boost, it should start working to fulfill the promises it made to the people. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant must speed up the process of restarting mining. Large numbers of people in the mining belt have voted for the BJP in the parliamentary elections. The government also must focus on making Goa open defecation free as the last of the many deadlines for making it ODF is just four months away. The state has to build over 60,000 toilets to make Goa ODF. The functioning of the government, which was badly affected owing to the illness of Manohar Parrikar, is yet to gather steam. This is a golden opportunity for Sawant to prove he has leadership capabilities.