Chinks appear in BJP's armour ahead of battle for Parrikar's Panaji
For the first time in a quarter century, when late Manohar Parrikar's writ ran large over the Goan capital, the BJP appears to be facing a tough battle to retain the prestigious Panaji seat which the party has held since 1994.
Facing simmering internal dissent on the one hand, former state RSS President Subhash Velingkar on the other, BJP candidate Sidharth Kuncalienkar, twice elected as MLA from Panaji -- during Parrikar's stint as a central minister -- appears to be treading on unsure ground, with the familiar overarching shadow of his mentor missing.
Kuncalienkar's opponents may be Congress' Atanasio Monserrate, apart from Velingkar of Goa Suraksha Manch and Aam Aadmi Party's Valmiki Naik, but his biggest challenge appears to be winning over a major chunk of BJP voters who looked up to Parrikar but now resent the manner in which the former Defence Minister's son Utpal was denied the ticket by party leaders.
After his claim for a ticket was rejected by the Bharatiya Janata Party's central election committee, Utpal himself described the experience as an "obstacle" to his "clean up" mission in politics.
While state BJP President Vinay Tendulkar now insists that the party had never propped up Utpal, he adds that the support for Kuncalienkar is total within the BJP. "We are one. We are united in the contest. This has been the spirit of the BJP," Tendulkar said.
One of the apprehensions of the BJP is the presence of Velingkar, who over the last few years has emerged as a baiter-in-chief of the ruling party.
The former RSS veteran's presence in the fray could pull away several hundred crucial Hindu conservative votes which the late Parrikar commanded. Panaji seat has only 22,000 voters, and Parrikar himself has pulled through by a difference of less than 2,000 votes at times.
Velingkar claims that his well wishers may be seen with the BJP out of fear, but in reality the committed BJP voter would reject Kuncalienkar.
"I have spent several decades in Panaji working for the RSS. My voters, many of whom are with the BJP, may be seen at their rallies and campaigns but they are doing it for namesake. When time comes they will vote for me," said Velingkar.
The BJP's biggest threat comes from Monserrate, whose has many criminal cases against him.
Monserrate has been accused of raping a minor girl in 2016, along with several other criminal charges related to assault and arson. He has had a chequered political career having joined and quit at least four political parties, including the BJP in two decades, something which Congress state President Girish Chodankar points out often.
"So when he is with the BJP, there is no taint on Monserrate? He becomes tainted only when he joins the Congress. How fair is that," Chodankar told IANS.
The fourth candidate for the Panaji bypoll is Aam Aadmi Party's Valmiki Naik.
"The BJP and the Congress take turns at fooling the people of Goa. The AAP is the only choice before them as far as clean politics is concerned," Naik said.