In a significant twist to the tale of the Goa assembly elections scheduled in February, opposition parties have entered a talk to form a grand alliance against the Pramod Sawant-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government ruling the western coastal state for the past five years.
This is a significant development, considering that the Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s aggressive bid to expand bases in Goa, and depending chiefly on poaching from the Congress for building its own organisation, had generated a great deal of animosity between the two parties that are considered crucial for an anti-BJP opposition alliance at the national level before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Now, if the talks take shape, it would probably mean an alliance comprising all major opposition parties – the Congress, the TMC, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) – except for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
“If a seat-sharing arrangement is finally reached upon, it will be a major example in favour of our argument that despite competing with each other for political space, opposition parties can still come together to defeat the BJP,” a TMC Rajya Sabha MP told Outlook, requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to comment on this matter.
The first indications of a Congress-TMC alliance were given by the TMC’s Goa in-charge, West Bengal’s Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra, when she wrote in a tweet on January 7, “Rest assured, we the AITC will do everything possible to defeat BJP in Goa - @Goaforwardparty, @INCGoa @AITC4Goa and #MGP. @Mamataofficial has done it in past & will not shy away from walking extra mile in Goa too.”
Rest assured, we the AITC will do everything possible to defeat BJP in Goa- @Goaforwardparty , @INCGoa@AITC4Goa and #MGP. @Mamataofficial has done it in past & will not shy away from walking extra mile in Goa too.— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) January 7, 2022
On Tuesday, confirmation came from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, when he told the media in Mumbai that the NCP, the Congress and the TMC were in talks for an alliance.
The TMC already has an alliance with the MGP, while the Congress has an alliance with the GFP. The Congress and the NCP were yet to finalise their alliance.
The BJP is believed to be facing a strong wind of anti-incumbency in Goa but almost all political observers were expecting to see the party return to power by virtue of a split opposition vote – with the Congress-led alliance on the one hand, the TMC-led alliance on the other, and the AAP contesting separately.
However, a senior Congress leader having knowledge of the party’s affairs in Goa told Outlook that finalising an alliance would not be that easy because the Congress’ Goa unit, and also a section of the national leadership, is peeved with the TMC’s attempts to weaken and belittle the Congress.
It was Mamata Banerjee’s TMC that turned the Goa elections interesting, carrying out an aggressive poaching drive and high-voltage propaganda launching the party in October last year. The party has got two former chief ministers and sitting MLAs into their fold – Luizinho Faleiro of the Congress whom the TMC sent to Rajya Sabha, and Churchill Alemao, the sole the NCP MLA.
In the 2017 Goa Assembly polls, the Congress emerged as the single largest party, bagging 17 of the 40 seats. Of the rest, the BJP won 13, the MGP and the GFP won three each, the NCP had one and three others were independents. Taking advantage of the Congress' 'delay' in securing support from others, the BJP formed the government with the support of the MGP and GFP and one independent MLA.
Subsequently, the Congress tally in the Assembly came down to 5 - with as many as 12 MLAs switching over to the BJP. The BJP's total strength reached 27.
Since the TMC’s entry last September, aided by political strategist Prashant Kishor’s organisation, the Congress weakened further, Faleiro and another sitting MLA, Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, joining the TMC, among other Congress leaders.
In the recent months, the BJP has both gained and lost in the battle of poaching – while independent MLA Rohan Khaunte, the Congress’ Ravi Naik and the GFP’s Jayesh Salgaonkar joined the BJP, the party has lost MLAs Alina Saldanha, who joined the AAP, Carlos Almeida who joined the Congress, Michael Lobo who is believed to be in talks with the Congress, and Pravin Zantye, who is reportedly headed towards the MGP.
Meanwhile, independent Goa MLA Prasad Gaonkar joined the Congress.
Overall, the situation does not look promising for the BJP in the case a split in opposition votes is averted.
"If the talks finalise, it would be of historic importance from the perspective of the 2024 Lok Sabha election," said a senior TMC leader.