A week before polling is due for a new Goa Assembly on February 4, voters appeared largely uninspired by both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, the two parties that have dominated the state’s politics for several decades. This has brought the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party closer to the centre-stage than it has been for a long time. Even that support though – as also for the Congress and even the Nationalist Congress Party – is largely limited to certain candidates in their own constituencies. So, whatever spirited enthusiasm one sees on the streets for a party is for the Aam Aadmi Party, although that too seems limited thus far to a few voters.
For analysts of long-term political undercurrents, the most significant aspect of the current electoral situation in the state is that Bahujan politics is back in play, albeit as a barely visible undercurrent, shifting from one banner to another. The mobilisation of Bahujan (majority) communities against the dominance of certain castes among both Hindus and Christians was a hallmark of the early Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.
In his 2015 book India’s First Democratic Revolution, Dayanand Bandodkar and the Rise of Bahujan in Goa, Parag Parobo, a professor of Goa University, documented the Bahujan politics of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party around the time Goa was transferred from Portuguese control to India in 1961. Bandodkar, a widely respected philanthropist, led the party to victory in the first elections in the state in 1963. The party was at that stage supported by non-Brahmin Hindus and Christians.
Parobo asserted that although Bahujan politics is often associated with the emergence of Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan Samaj Party in the 1980s, it first took power through the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party – which formed the second non-Congress government in the country after the Communist Party of India-led regime in Kerala in 1957.
And, Parobo said, many of Goa’s prominent freedom fighters, both Hindu and Christian, lost their deposits to the party’s nominees, since they had not been able to give their struggle a mass base the way Mahatma Gandhi had across British India. According to him, the upper castes generally supported the United Goa Party at that stage. When it proved a non-starter, they transferred their backing to the Congress, which had failed to make a dent immediately after Goa became a part of India. The Congress thus harnessed the support of dominant communities in the state, the way it had in states like Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Even today, many Goans still refer to the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party as MG – perhaps an echo of its initial name, Gomantak Maratha, the plank through which various jatis came together. Parobo described it as the way “lower castes appropriated Maratha identity” before that Marathisation gave way to reimagined “walls within” – fresh caste-based assertions.
AAP making a buzz
Conversations with a wide variety of voters across Goa during the past few days indicate that the Aam Aadmi Party is today just about the only party that excites positive support and hope – although only among a limited number of voters. There are many who do not know of it, or have heard negative things about how it has performed in Delhi, but there are also those who want to try it out in the hope of a change from politics as usual.
More interesting is the fact that some of those few who store great hope by the Aam Aadmi Party also talk of both the BJP and the Congress being dominated by dominant communities such as Brahmins. For example, Jaurish Kankonkar, the brother of the Aam Aadmi Party candidate for the St Andre constituency, Ram Kankonkar, said, “There is a silent vote; Christians, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are with us.”
Further north, a conversation with a couple at the table next to ours at a small eatery near Mapusa highlighted nuances within the Christian category. The Christian couple were guarded in their response while the two Christian women who ran the eatery were part of our conversation. But outside the place, they became far more animated, declaring their strong support for the Aam Aadmi Party while also saying that the dominant castes among both Christians and Hindus had joined the compact that had brought the BJP’s Manohar Parrikar (now the Union defence minister) to power in the last elections five years ago.
Historian Prajal Shakardande explained that the Saraswat Brahmin category (to which his family belongs) had evolved over the past few centuries – and that the identity is strongly asserted by some Goan Christian families as much as Hindu ones. Some analysts view the success of Parrikar as his success in securing the backing of the elite among both Hindus and Christians. The BJP was buoyed to victory in the 2012 elections by the wave of public revulsion against the corruption of successive Congress regimes.
“If AAP was there in 2012, it would have won,” said Parobo. “There was a strong anger against the Congress, on which the BJP capitalised.” He was alluding to the fact that a party perceived as non-elite would have ridden the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress more easily than what one might call the compact of elite that backed Parrikar did.
If indeed a slot for Bahujan politics is subtly re-emerging in Goa’s politics, the original author of that movement has moved far from that positioning. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party is now widely associated in the public mind with the Goa Suraksha Manch, launched on October 2 by long-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Subhash Velingkar after rebelling with the BJP. He is seen as the face of Hindutva politics in Goa.