Though at one point the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state seemed to be on a sure ground in Mandrem and Shiroda by admitting Congress MLAs Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar into its fold, the scenario has changed over the weeks, making it look not so easy for the party to win the by-elections in the two Assembly constituencies. Opposition to expected nomination as BJP candidates of Sopte and Shirodkar from within party organisation has been building up in the two constituencies. Laxmikant Parsekar, the former chief minister who represented Mandrem constituency, has declared his intention to contest as an independent. In Shiroda, Mahadev Naik has joined the Congress to oppose Shirodkar. The rebellion by two leaders could adversely affect the prospects of the BJP candidates. The BJP also faces division of votes with its ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, deciding to field candidates in both the constituencies. With too much opposition from within the alliance and the party, the BJP nominees could find the going tough unless the party is able to dissuade the rebels from playing spoilsport. So far, the BJP leadership does not appear to have taken the resentment in the organisation seriously as there are no visible signs of them making efforts for a rapprochement.
Parsekar was one of the main leaders who built the BJP in Goa; so his embitterment cannot but earn sympathy with party workers. His words — such as “degradation has set in the party”; the party is using “unethical means” and taking “irrational” decisions at the “cost of party’s ideology” — are going to arouse emotions among party workers in his constituency, who had worked for him for years. He has sought to remind the party leadership that the BJP never rushed to grab power in the times of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani and waited patiently to turn Deendayal Upadhyay’s dreams into reality. The state BJP leadership would not find it easy to explain to the BJP workers of Mandrem why they did not think that admitting a “defector” would take away the constituency from Parsekar whowas among the founders of the party.
In Shiroda, Mahadev Naik, the former BJP legislator, would not have thought of leaving the party had the party not admitted Shirodkar on the assurance that he would get the party ticket in the by-election in the constituency. Naik’s departure from the BJP may not hurt the party as much as Parsekar leaving would, but he might be able to cash in on the anger of BJP workers who for long campaigned and fought against Shirodkar and still see him as an “outsider.” With Naik joining the Congress, the party has got at least a respectable option in Shiroda. It had been finding it very difficult to find a candidate to stand up to the challenges of Shirodkar and MGP’s Deepak Dhavalikar. The Congress has remained undecided about nominees for the two constituencies. There are too many candidates but the party has been avoiding to name a candidate. In hindsight, it might appear like a blessing in disguise for the Congress in both Shiroda and Mandrem: in Shiroda it has got a candidate and in Mandrem, Parsekar has declared his intention to contest as an independent. Both the developments weaken the chances of the BJP. It sounds very pitiable that the grand old party has to depend on negative developments in the rival party to build hopes for regaining power. The party lost many of its workers who walked away with Shirodkar and Sopte.
The BJP might have brought down the Congress strength in the Assembly by engineering the party switch of Sopte and Shirodkar but in the process has hurt itself organisationally. There have been reports of the induction and likely nomination of former Congress MLAs not going down well with a number of BJP workers in the two constituencies, as they feel their entry may do more harm than good to the party. While a few speak against the party’s decision there are many who have thought it wise to maintain silence. The big challenge for the BJP state leadership is to keep the party workers with them, before they can expect to get their votes. The BJP would also have to fight anti-incumbency and public resentment owing to its failure to deliver on promises, including on mining. And the party would not have Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to campaign for the candidates on account of his ill health. Having opened too many battle fronts, the BJP would need to work out a sound and prudent strategy to win the two by-elections.