The ruling BJP-led coalition secured its tenuous hold on power in Goa on Monday, winning both bypoll seats in capital Panjim and interior Valpoi with comfortable leads. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar won Panjim for the sixth time, defeating the Congress’s Girish Chodankar by 4,803 votes. Parrikar polled 9,862 votes, while Chodankar polled 5,059 votes in last week’s elections that saw a 70% turnout.

In interior Valpoi, Vishwajit Rane won on a BJP ticket with a 10,087 vote margin against Roy Naik, son of former Congress chief Minister Ravi Naik.

“This is an endorsement of the government, endorsement of my candidature and of Vishwajit’s decision,” Parrikar told a news conference on Monday, shortly after counting ended.

Rane had resigned his seat days after the Congress, which had emerged as the single-largest party when the Assembly election results were declared in March, failed to form the government. He crossed over to the BJP, becoming the health minister in the coalition. His victory on Monday brings the BJP tally up from 13 seats it garnered in February to 14. The Congress is down from 17 seats to 16, but remains the single-largest party in the House. BJP allies – the Goa Forward Party (3), Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (3), and three independents take the BJP-led coalition’s numbers to 23 in the 40-member House.

“This equation will run well,” said Parrikar. “This is a stable government and a stable number.” The former defence minister returned to Goa to lead the coalition in March after the Goa Forward Party and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party insisted that Parrikar hold the reins of any government they supported.

Allies hold the upper hand in government, sharing 10 of the cabinet berths, leaving the BJP with just two berths as well as the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker, which has created restiveness within the party.

There were expected to be more crossovers from the Congress, but political compulsions of power sharing have reduced that possiblity now. “In our happy family, we don’t need any more,” said Parrikar, indicating that no further poaching was on the cards.

‘A vote for stability’

Congress leader Ramakant Khalap said that the results had shown that “though the BJP had won, the Congress has not lost”. Morale in the party after losing its chance to form the government in March was at an all-time low. It dipped further when its probable candidate for Panjim, Atanasio (Babush) Monserrate, who was in talks with it to challenge the BJP, suddenly joined hands with the Goa Forward Party at the eleventh hour, paving the way for an easy victory for Parrikar.

Attempts by the Congress to find suitable candidates from Panjim failed when three probables declined to contest. The role fell upon All India Congress Committee secretary and party loyalist Girish Chodankar, who put up a formidable campaign despite the party’s ground-level organsation staying away from the campaign after Monserrate joined the Goa Forward Party.

Panjim has been a BJP bastion since 1994, with Parrikar holding the seat for 23 years. He resigned to join the Union cabinet in 2014, ceding the seat to his lieutenant Siddharth Kuncalienkar, in 2014 and 2017.

“In a bypoll people tend to vote for the party in power, more so if it is the sitting chief minister and health minister contesting,” said columnist Cleofato Almeida Coutinho. “They tend to vote for stability.”

If Parrikar was worried that his margin has reduced since his 2012 lead of 6,000 votes, he was not showing it.

In interior Valpoi, Vishwajit Rane pulled off a convincing win, though there was anger among BJP workers at his crossover to the saffron party.

Goa’s political terrain is carved out by constituency overlords, who control and nurture segments, seamlessly shifting party loyalties on the strength of their individual winnability.

Though there is speculation in political circles that the BJP may prefer to call mid-term elections in 2019 to checkmate its allies who now control the government, the party still has to recover from its setback earlier this year. Though Parrikar led the BJP’s Assembly election campaign , the party lost badly, coming down from 21 seats to 13.