Goa by-elections may decide fate of coalition government

Panaji: Along with elections to Goa’s two Lok Sabha seats on April 23, the state is also going to witness by-elections to three Assembly seats, the results of which may well decide the fate of the incumbent BJP-led coalition government.

The bypolls in Shiroda and Mandrem were necessitated after two Congress MLAs representing the constituencies quit the party and legislatorship and joined the BJP last year.

The election in Mapusa were announced after sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza died after a long battle with cancer.

The by-elections have grabbed more attention and headlines because of the tumultuous political developments in Goa, ever since the death of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on March 17.

The appointment of a new Chief Minister, anointing of Francis D’Souza’s son as the BJP candidate in Mapusa, sacking of Deputy Chief Minister Sudin Dhavalikar and the eventual breach in the BJP-Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party alliance have made the contest for the by-elections complex, with each Assembly constituency brewing in localised issues, which could decide the outcome on May 23.

In Shiroda, a jilted MGP is trying hard to defeat the BJP’s Subhash Shirodkar. In fact, the split between the BJP and the MGP occurred over MGP President Deepak Dhavalikar’s decision to contest from Shiroda and the MGP is leaving no stone unturned to avenge the humiliation meted to the now out-of-power regional outfit.

“We will not avenge the BJP, the people of Shiroda will. The BJP is trying to finish regional parties. They are going to learn a lesson of their lifetime,” Deepak Dhavalikar told IANS on Friday.

In Mapusa, the BJP’s decision to anoint D’Souza son Joshua, who was barely involved in the party hierarchy or cadre responsibilities, has led to a revolt in the ranks after the deceased MLAs’ right-hand man Sudhir Kandolkar quit the party and became the Congress candidate.

Joshua claims that contesting the seat is akin to taking forward his father’s legacy. “This is my chance to do something for the people of Mapusa. They have showered love on my father. I know they will have me in their minds when they cast their vote on April 23,” Joshua said.

However, Joshua not just faces the key challenge from Kandolkar, but also from a disillusioned local BJP cadre, who consider him an outsider to the BJP’s scheme of things.

One of the most complex contests is playing out in the Mandrem Assembly seat where BJP’s Dayanand Sopte, Congress Babi Bagkar and Independent candidate Jeet Arolkar are vying for a victory.

Sopte won the Mandrem seat in 2017 on Congress ticket defeating sitting Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, but quit the party a year later, after he was assured he would contest on the Mandrem seat on a BJP ticket.

The decision, however, led a virtual rebellion in the BJP with Parsekar threatening to contest as a rebel.

While Parsekar backed down, he has boycotted the party’s campaign efforts in his own constituency, with sources close to him saying the former Chief Minister was backing independent candidate Jeet Arolkar, a former police constable-turned-real estate promoter whose liberal spending during the campaign has attracted the attention of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant.

“Balance sheets will be checked after the elections,” Sawant said, in a recent poll rally in Mandrem, in a covert threat to Arolkar.

The other key contestant in Mandrem is Congress’ Bagkar, whose announcement as candidate was delayed due to internal differences with other party aspirants for the seat.

The bypolls are particularly important for the BJP and the Congress in order to ‘top up’ their respective legislative strength.

In the Goa Assembly, which currently has 36 members, the Congress and the BJP are tied with 14 legislators each. If the BJP wins more seats than the Congress, it would secure the future of the government, but if the Congress wrests even two seats, it would be in a position to make a fresh bid for power in the state.