Battling a deepening political as a fallout of its chief minister’s ill-health, the Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa may be in for some fresh trouble. Subhash Velingkar, who headed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the state for five decades before breaking away from it and forming his own political party, last Sunday announced his decision to enter electoral politics and take on the BJP.

“The time is right for me to join politics,” Velingkar said in the presence of 200 members of Bharat Mata Ki Jay, the non-political organisation he heads. Its political arm, the Goa Suraksha Manch, said a formal induction would be held on Saturday. Thereafter, it would organise village-level meetings and a large public meeting.

Party president Atmaram Gaonkar told that they were counting on the support of “dissatisfied” BJP cadre. “We ourselves have come out of the BJP,” he said. “And many more dissatisfied BJP cadre will back us.” He added, “Also, 95% of the RSS cadre in Goa is still with Velingkar Sir.”

In 2016, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Goa unit had sacked Velingkar for his criticism of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar for continuing grants to English-medium primary schools. Velingar went on to head a rebel faction of the Sangh in Goa. In October of that year, he formed the Goa Suraksha Manch. The party contested the 2017 Assembly elections but failed to win any seats. Thereafter, Velingkar’s breakaway Goa Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh faction, which claimed to have a larger following than the official Sangh unit in the state, was renamed Bharat Mata Ki Jay.

Goa Suraksha Manch workers said they believed the well-known former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader’s plunge into active politics would change the fledgling party’s fortunes, by providing an effective moral counterpoint to a BJP that has compromised to stay in power.

In political circles, this split in the saffron camp is seen to be roughly along caste lines, with the Other Backward Classes converging around Velingkar while the upper castes remain with the BJP. Given his Sangh background, Velingkar enjoys considerable heft among saffron supporters, though this did not translate into votes in the last Assembly elections. But, as his party workers say, “A lot has changed since 2017.”

Bad timing

The Goa Suraksha Manch’s political move is likely to cause heartburn to the BJP, coming as it does in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and two key bye-polls in the state. The bye-elections have been necessitated by the defection of Congress MLAs Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte to the BJP in October. Political watchers say there is pressure on Velingkar to contest one of the bye-polls.

His party, in the meantime, has been attacking the BJP and its coalition partner, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, for their alleged support to casinos and their alleged failure to tackle what it has flagged as key issues – grants to English-medium schools, the “drug mafia”, the formalin-in-fish scare, and the Goa-Karnataka spat over diversion of the Mhadei river’s water.

All of this also comes at a time when the BJP is grappling with snowballing resentment at several layers of its organisation. On November 8, five party veterans and former ministers and legislators, led by former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar and sacked minister Francis D’Souza, held a meeting that was intended as a show of strength. Demanding the resignation of Goa BJP president Vinay Tendulkar and an overhaul of the party organisation, they said they would hold more such meetings to strengthen the party. They also said they wanted the BJP high command to take note of developments in the state as it was being misinformed. The meeting has been interpreted as a build-up against the dominance of the faction loyal to Parrikar, who have the ear of the party leadership in Delhi.

The BJP's induction of former Congress MLAs Subhash Shirodkar (left) and Dayanand Sopte (right) has caused resentment in the party ranks. (Credit: Mohd Zakir / HT)

‘No more sympathy’

The BJP had dropped D’Souza as state urban development minister on September 24, while he was undergoing treatment at the same cancer hospital in New York that Parrikar had visited earlier this year. Pandurang Madkaikar, another ailing BJP minister, was also replaced.

Then, on October 17, the BJP admitted the Congress defectors, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte, in a bid to save its crisis-hit government. This brought the Congress’ numbers in the 40-member Assembly down to 14, the same as the BJP. But the BJP’s decision triggered a revolt in its ranks. Parsekar, who had lost to Sopte at the hustings in 2017, took his rival’s induction as the latest in a series of moves to sideline him in the party. Allegations of money transfers as part of the “defection deal” also surfaced in the state media.

That was not the end of it. Soon after, Shirodkar was appointed chairman of the Economic Development Corporation while Sopte was given charge of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation. The allotment of key positions in cash-rich state corporations to the “Congress imports” irked many in the BJP, including members of its youth wing.

Velingkar’s Goa Suraksha Manch hopes to mop up some of this discontent.

At the end of October, the chief minister’s office released pictures of a gaunt Parrikar holding meetings at his home, following intense speculation about his health and allegations by the Congress of governance suffering. It led to a wave of criticism against the BJP, with citizens accusing it of using the chief minister, who is suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer, to cling to power and to present favourable optics ahead of the 2019 elections.

The Goa Suraksha Manch’s Atmaram Gaonkar claims there is little sympathy left for Parrikar too. “If he had stepped down at the right time, guided someone else to take his place, there would be sympathy,” he said. “But he has not left the post, while Goa has suffered, with no decisions being taken. Now that chance for sympathy is long gone.”