February 03, 2017

India: Trouble could be brewing for the BJP in Goa

Dhaka Tribune

Turmoil in the Hindutva camp

Turmoil in the Hindutva camp
Should BJP be worried?/REUTERS

Trouble could be brewing for the BJP

Goa is an important state for the BJP. Except for Punjab, where the party is the junior partner in a coalition government led by the Shiromani Akali Dal, Goa is the only one of the five states that will soon go to the polls where BJP is already in power.
Goa’s former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was handpicked by Modi himself in 2014 to head the Defense Ministry; and none other than the BJP’s former president Nitin Gadhkari is in charge of party affairs in the state. A defeat here will thus be extremely unwelcome; much is, in other words, at stake — even if Goa is India’s smallest state.
But there is turmoil in the Hindutva camp.
In addition to the BJP, Goa’s Hindu national wing comprises of several smaller players. The Shiv Sena, which we otherwise know best from Maharashtra and Mumbai, has a presence although it is quite limited. And it seems that the bad blood that gradually has emerged between the BJP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has found its way to Goa.
When Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray kicked off his party’s campaign in Goa in October, he talked about how a power-hungry BJP had exploited and abused Shiv Sena’s loyal support in pursuit of its own power and influence.
That is why his party would take on the BJP in Goa, said Thackeray.
This kind of threat should not give the BJP leadership in Goa sleepless nights — the Shiv Sena is, as mentioned, a marginal player. But since October other events have transpired. A new party, the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), has seen the light of day, and behind this party stands the rebellious RSS leader in Goa, Subhash Velingkar.
Velingkar is unhappy that the BJP government in Goa has not done enough to promote the use of their mother tongue as the medium of instruction in schools; therefore he campaigns now to defeat the BJP. He has also quit the RSS and formed its own branch of the RSS in Goa.
Reportedly, several hundred RSS members followed him. Such internal strife in the RSS, which even played out in full public view and in most media channels, is far from common. Still, on its own, the GSM poses no threat to the BJP. But things do not stop here.
As if this was not enough, the BJP’s partner in government in recent years, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), not long ago decided to leave the alliance. 50 years ago the MGP was the main party in Goa with considerable appeal among non-Brahmin Hindus. Since then it has mostly been downhill for the MGP who has lost many votes to the BJP. But they are not yet reduced to a political small fry.
If the BJP performs badly in Goa, Modi may appear politically weakened and the more conservative elements of the RSS may find the time opportune to raise their demands for a stronger Hindutva imprint more vocally
In 2012, they polled around 6% of the votes and won three seats in the state legislative assembly. And in light of Goa’s political fragmentation, a party can (even with only three MLAs) achieve considerable influence.
Now, the MGP has entered into an electoral alliance with Shiv Sena and the GSM, and this should be a cause for concern for the BJP.
For, in what promises to be a very close election, all parties need to hold on to their core voters — and it is precisely the BJP’s core constituency that the new alliance is eyeing.
The GSM-MGP-Shiv Sena alliance used the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s recent visit to Goa to lash out at the former colonial power. They demanded an apology for past colonial sins; demanded that the Portuguese Consulate General in Goa closed; and even accused the Portuguese of having introduced an “English culture” in Goa.
Antonio Costa has roots in Goa and visited his ancestral home in Margao, the largest city in Christian-dominated Salcete. But for the GSM-MGP-Shiv Sena alliance, this was no happy homecoming.
While they  used the opportunity to demonstrate their nationalist pedigree, BJP Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar paid a courtesy visit to meet Costa at the Portuguese Consulate General, where he spoke warmly about the good and close relations between Portugal and Goa.
In the big picture, the Goa elections may be a trivial matter for BJP, which probably has its eyes set on the big political prize to be won in Uttar Pradesh.
But it may very well be that the internal disagreements in RSS in Goa, and the ensuing conflict between the BJP and segments of the RSS, could ultimately prove to be symptomatic of wider problems in the Hindutva camp.
It is well known that not everyone in the RSS is enthusiastic about the policy direction of the BJP under Modi. If the BJP performs badly in Goa (and the four other states who go to the polls soon), Modi may appear politically weakened and the more conservative elements of the RSS may find the time opportune to raise their demands for a stronger Hindutva imprint more vocally — not just in Goa, but also elsewhere.
For now, however, the BJP in Goa can find solace in the fact that the “secular” camp consisting of parties like the Congress Party, AAP, and Goa Forward appears no less divided than the Hindutva camp.
Kenneth Bo Nielsen is the Coordinator of Asianettverket, the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies.