With the February 4 Assembly elections in Goa drawing closer, indications are that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party may not find the going as easy as it did in 2012, when it rode to power on an anti-Congress wave. Since then, its popularity has waned and the struggle to beat the odds is visible in its poll footwork.

When the BJP released its second list of candidates on Monday – with just two days to go for Wednesday’s deadline for filing of nominations – it made it clear that it was following the winnability formula, that is, dumping party ministers and loyalists in favour of winnable outsiders, even if they are borrowed from the Congress. The party dropped Deputy Speaker Anant Shet and Tribal Affairs Minister Ramesh Tawadkar, naming former Congressman Pravin Zantye and Vijay Pai Khot in their place.

Two more former Congress ministers, Mauvin Godinho and Pandurang Madkaikar, are perceived to be winnable candidates. The BJP had absorbed the two in December last year, after earlier accusing them of corruption and filing cases against them.

The party’s decisions have drawn sharp reactions from within, including from Union Minister of State for Ayush and North Goa MP Sripad Naik, whose son was in the fray for a ticket. Naik had objected to Madkaikar’s induction in the party, though he later clarified that he had only spoken out as he had not been consulted in the matter.

With its second list of seven names out, the BJP has named 36 candidates for the state’s 40 Assembly seats so far. It had released its first list on January 12.

Unless the BJP manages to quell a revolt, the ministers who have been dropped could contest on tickets from other parties, including its former alliance partner, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

BJP miscalculations

Analysts see the emphasis on winnable candidates as a significant shift and course correction for the BJP. By choosing winnability over principles, it is making a serious bid to halt its downslide and keep its prospects high even as anti-incumbency and anti-BJP sentiment threaten to derail its poll campaign.

In the past five years, the BJP has received flak for reneging on many of its poll promises, including on the recovery of illegal mining monies, shifting of casinos, and giving the state special status to protect rampant land sales, among others.

Instead, it has managed to alienate sections of the populace by allegedly doing the opposite – pushing infrastructure over people’s homesteads through corporate-driven agendas, green-flagging ecologically questionable projects, easing land ownership shifts from ethnic Goans to outsiders, making tenancy claims difficult, and allowing a real estate/construction spurt by keeping land plans open. Several of its projects involving large acquisitions of land have run into protests, which the government has swept aside, while industry-friendly rules have been framed to bypass zoning laws.

During this period, the Opposition has been able to corner the government on corruption charges before the Lokayukta – the anti-graft watchdog that was appointed only towards the end of the BJP’s term. Critics have accused the BJP of managing the media in the state so that none of the issues raised by the Opposition parties got traction for long.

Its policy of giving election freebies, such as internet packs for young people and household doles and wedding grants for women, and its alleged attempts to contain the Opposition by filing cases against its members, were still expected to hold up. What upset the BJP’s applecart in September was an inter-Parivar personality split that escalated into the formation of a splinter Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh political grouping. This then aligned with a former coalition partner of the BJP to create a hardline saffron bulwark against the ruling party’s moves to craft a mainstream inclusive image.

Though it is a new political front, the breakaway RSS-led Goa Suraksha Manch-Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party-Shiv Sena alliance could take away crucial votes in several assembly segments to damage the BJP.

In the 2012 polls, half the seats won in the 40-member House were by margins of 2,500 votes or less. In Goa’s small electoral segments with just 20,000 to 29,000 voters each, multi-cornered contests could mean that candidates who manage to get around 2,000 votes end up depriving major contenders of key votes. This has often led to accusations of match-fixing, with rival parties accusing each other of financing vote splitters to cause defeats.

For now, it looks to be a four-way contest in the state, with the Aam Aadmi Party also making a strong pitch. This could balance out the odds against the Congress, which is making a serious bid to return to power.