If the Uttar Pradesh elections was the victory of Modi’s promised New India, then the Goa elections was its complete defeat. This may seem like hyperbole, so let me confine myself not to commentary, but to hard statistical facts. Let the data tell the story.
In 2017, the number of those who voted in Goa was a record high of 81.4%. From this turnout it appears that the voters wanted to make an unambiguous statement about the working of democracy in Goa. The figure of 81.4% is as near as one can come to the whole people (not a minority) voting to choose who shall represent them. So whom did they choose?
Goa, by the numbers
Of the total votes polled, the Bharatiya Janata Party was the largest party with 32.5%, the Congress 28.4%, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party 11.3%, Independents 11.15%, Aam Aadmi Party 6.3%, Goa Forward Party 3.5%, with other assorted groups getting the rest.
But when votes polled are translated into seats, a function of the electoral system of first past the post, the picture of seats won reads as BJP 13, Congress 17, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party three, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party three and Independents three. The contrast between the two pictures, voting percentages and seats, does not give us a clear picture of the voter’s intention, so we have to look deeper.
If we now break down the aggregate votes into constituency profiles, especially of the three groups that have, after the election, joined to form the BJP-led coalition government, since both the largest parties in Goa did not get a majority, the picture that emerges is as follows. Let me present the data in tabular form for the readers to arrive at their own conclusion of the voter’s intention.
The three Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party victories came from Pernem in North Goa and Marcaim and Sanvordem in the South. The votes polled are as follows:
It is clear from these three constituencies that the people voted against the BJP. The Congress was not even in the contest. The margins of victory of 13,680, 6,030, and 5,221 votes, are all higher than the average victory margin of 3,873 votes, across the 40 constituencies of the state. The people, it is clear, wanted to defeat the BJP. They came to say so in large numbers with an average turnout of 84%.
The three Goa Forward Party victories came from Fatorda in South Goa, and Saligao and Siolim in the North. Votes polled are as follows:
The picture here too is similar. In all three constituencies that the Goa Forward Party won, the voter also wanted to defeat the BJP, which came second. Again here the Congress was not even in consideration. However, in contrast to the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party constituencies the fight between the Goa Forward Party and BJP was intense with margins of victory being smaller at 1,334, 2,137 and 1,441 votes, well below the state average of 3,873. In fact the leader of the Goa Forward Party, Vijai Sardesai, won his seat by a small margin only to indicate that the BJP did all it could to defeat him. It is only because of Sardesai’s strident campaign against the BJP, as stated by party president Prabhakar Timble, who has since resigned from his post as well as the party, that Sardesai was able to get the majority of the vote. In fact in Saligao and Siolim, the Goa Forward Party defeated two ministers of the outgoing BJP government.
In all six constituencies the vote was decisively against the BJP. This becomes clear even in two of the three Independent constituencies. The votes polled in Porvorim in the North and Sanguem in the South are as follows:
In these two constituencies as well, the main opposition to the winners is the BJP that came second by margins of 4,213 and 937 votes respectively. The Congress is third again.
Rejection of BJP
In all three clusters, the voter clearly wanted to defeat the BJP. There can be many reasons for this but the main one was that all the eight candidates campaigned on a platform concerning the BJP’s misdeeds, corruption and actions, which were against the interests of Goa. The voter heard them, believed them, and voted for their message. Believing in the efficacy of democracy to remove a regime that they did not trust they voted, without exception, against the BJP.
Just like in Uttar Pradesh, the prime minister campaigned in Goa too. So did BJP stalwarts. These are hard facts. But in spite of the prime minister’s magic and the BJP’s promises, the people of Goa, unlike their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, rejected the BJP. This also happened to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962 when he was reported to have said, “Yeh Goa ke log ajeeb hain [The people of Goa are strange]”.
Yes, the people of Goa continue to be strange. As compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the vote share of the BJP in this coastal state dropped by at least 17% in in the recently-concluded Assembly election. In Uttar Pradesh, the drop was a mere 2%.
In spite of the clear verdict of the voter’s intention in the eight constituencies discussed above what did the MLAs do? They moved en masse towards the BJP, and against what their voters intended.
Goan politics has returned to the dark years of the 1990s when MLAs changed parties wherever the inducements were more attractive. Defections and splits were the basis of government formation. I do not want to reflect on the morals or integrity of these eight individual MLAs, particularly of Vijai Sardesai who led the Goa Forward Party MLAs into the BJP arms, against the wishes of both his party and his people, for we know it is low, we know politics is a business for them not a public service. This is the new sanskriti.
In fact to fight this degeneration of values, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader in Goa, Subhash Velingker, who built the organisation in Goa, broke away from the parent organisation and formed an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, with the sole purpose of defeating the corrupt BJP. Hence the high Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party votes. But Goa has defeated even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s sanskriti. Our MLAs are narcissistic rent takers. Let the prime minister be warned that Uttar Pradesh will become like Goa. The New India is Goa.
In this New India the organic link between representative and represented, the core feature of a democracy, is fundamentally broken. The institutions tasked with protecting this feature of representative democracy have failed us. The Governor allows a party, the BJP, whom the people voted against (if we add up the percentages of votes polled by the Congress, Goa Forward Party and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party we get 43.2% against the BJP vote share of 32.5%), to form the government and face a floor test.
The honourable judges of the Supreme Court too, ignoring the data publicly available from the Election Commission of India website, granted the coalition formed by the BJP with the Goa Forward Party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Independents a floor test ignoring the largest party convention that has evolved. The Supreme Court thereby gave legitimacy to a cynical politics to sustain a disjunction between the representative and represented. Are not the courts defenders of a public ethics? What should a citizen do? Wait for the next elections? Alas.
A scary New India
This has serious consequences for our constitutional order. When the vote has no meaning, other than to declare a winning candidate, but not to form a legitimate democratic government, then we have reason to worry. And as if this disjunction between representative and represented is not damaging enough, the BJP then tells the people of Goa that the 40 MLAs they have elected are not good enough to give them a chief minister. They will send Shakuni from Delhi to load the electoral dice. Manohar Parrikar is sent and his cabinet of 10 ministers has the following composition: of the 13 MLAs of the BJP of whom seven are Christian and six Hindu, only two are selected, one from each community thereby ignoring even their own voters. The remaining seven go to the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa Forward Party and Independents who fought on a plank to defeat the BJP.
From the location of Goa, New India looks scary. Forget the will of the people. Forget gate-keeping by constitutional authorities. Forget dharma. Forget shame. Just think power, and you get a picture of a New India very different from the one promised, the real, New India of power.
Peter Ronald deSouza is professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. Views are personal. The author thanks Shreyas Sardessai for his research assistance.
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