Goa: The north-south tug-of-war

As the BJP and the Congress try to unseat each other, the RGP plays a weak third pole

Captain Viriato Fernandes campaigns in Navelim (photo: @Yurialemao9/X)
Captain Viriato Fernandes campaigns in Navelim (photo: @Yurialemao9/X)

Aditya Anand

With the North Goa seat deemed a BJP stronghold and the South Goa seat almost certainly going to the Congress, the electoral waters in Goa are likely to be muddied by the Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP), the wild card which the INDIA bloc claims it tried to induct into the Alliance but failed.

The RGP contested the Assembly election in 2022 for the first time and won a single North Goa seat: St Andre, a predominantly Catholic constituency (though the sitting MLA is Hindu). The party’s founder Manoj Parab is a geologist turned entrepreneur and activist, who formed the party in 2018 to champion regional and local interests.

Strong on paper in South Goa, the INDIA bloc — comprising the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the NCP — decided to drop sitting Congress MP and four-term Lok Sabha member Francisco Sardinha (77) in favour of Kargil war veteran and former naval officer Captain Viriato Fernandes. South Goa was won by Sardinha in 2019, polling 47.47 per cent of the votes. A miffed Sardinha has declared that while he will not leave the party, he will not attend election-related meetings either.

Fernandes will take on Pallavi Dempo, executive director of Dempo Industries Ltd, contesting as a BJP candidate. While she is banking on the goodwill she has as a trustee of the family’s charitable trust that administers the Dempo Sports Club, a formidable footballing outfit, and among the women voters who outnumber men in the constituency, there is a muted resentment among BJP old-timers that she will be expected to overcome.

Fernandes, meanwhile, had contested the Assembly election in 2022 as a Congress candidate from Dabolim and is known for his environmental activism. Holding degrees in mechanical and aeronautics engineering and a double MBA, he lost that election.

The BJP has pinned its hopes on splitting the Opposition votes in Benaulim, Curtorim, Navelim and Cuncolim for now, in a region that made up been a strong Congress citadel until recently.

For its part, the INDIA bloc has fielded former Union law minister Ramakant Khalap in the North Goa constituency. It will be a battle of two titans: Khalap, himself a veteran, is pitted against sitting MP and Union minister of state Sripad Naik, who has a long six-term record. While Khalap, a Maratha, is known as ‘bhai’ in the constituency, Naik is also affectionately called ‘bhau’, both terms acknowledging them as a ‘brother’.

The North Goa seat was secured by the BJP in 1999 and has remained with the party ever since. In 2019, Naik had won by polling an impressive 57.12 per cent of the votes. However, he is now handicapped by his relatively lacklustre performance in Parliament, restricted by his ministerial responsibilities. Khalap, a freedom fighter and lawyer, has also been Goa’s first IT minister and is vocal on various issues. Might this be enough to unseat Naik? 

As for the RGP, they are unlikely to vastly upset any calculations.

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