Bolstered by its thumping victory in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly Elections, the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, is eyeing to make their presence felt at the Konkan State of Goa. The induction of Congress leaders, Luizinho Faleiro, Ulhas Vasnkar and Priya Rathod, amongst others, stresses the fact that TMC’s ambitions are not just limited to the Goan coast. The presence of political strategist Prashant Kishore, Didi’s latest statements criticising Congress party and her growing rapport with the likes of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are all pointing towards her ambition towards materializing a third front in the national political spectrum. Thus, the TMC’s entry into Goan politics should be seen in a wider national perspective rather than limiting it within the boundaries of the Konkan state.
Arguably for the first time, since the failure of the Congress to form the government in 2017, Goa has re-surfaced in the national political discourse. This western state became independent and was merged with the Indian Union in 1961. The first election that was held in this former Portuguese territory was won, not by the Congress, but by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). In fact, the Congress was “routed” as it could win only one seat in the then 30-member assembly of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu, that too from Daman and not Goa (Joshi, 1964). The other major player then was the United Goan Party (UGP). The MGP, which received the bulk of its votes from non-Brahmin Hindus, wanted Goa to be merged with Maharashtra, whereas the UGP, which is an amalgamation of four Roman Catholic parties, resisted such a merger. The Congress gradually grew in importance and came to power in 1980. Even after Goa became a state in 1987, when its assembly strength was raised to 40, the Congress continued to dominate, largely at the cost of the UGP. However, after the Ram Janmabhoomi issue gained prominence in the 1990s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began to gain prominence, gradually eating up the Hindu vote bank of MGP. This trend has continued since then, making the contest in Goa largely between the two national parties. The Congress’s main ‘vote bank’ in Goa has been the Catholics while the BJP’s has been the Hindus. The TMC, which inducted Luizinho Fareiro, a strong South Goa Catholic face, is aiming to cut into the Catholic votes and at the same time trying to woo the Hindu votes by forging a pre-poll alliance with the MGP.
However, while trying to analyse the evolving political climate in Goa, there are more political players to be taken into consideration, who generally switch alliances according to the situations at hand. The United Goan Party (UGP), Goa Forward party (GFP) and of course the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is trying to spread their wings further from Delhi, are all in the fray. The presence of AAP which cut into the Congress’s ‘vote bank’ in 2017, and the ever confident TMC coupled with its new inductions might leave the Congress in a weak position as there is possibility of the Catholic votes; which was once a strong Congress vote bank, being divided across the Opposition parties, which, in turn can help the prospects of BJP. But the recent pre-poll alliance of MGP and TMC is also a concern for BJP as it has the potential to cut across the Hindu community votes, thereby making the political climate out there more turbulent than ever.
Although Manipur and Goa go to elections at the same time, the TMC chose Goa as their next battle ground even though they have better party machinery in Manipur. This point towards its national ambitions as a considerable presence in a western state and it gives much more legitimacy to its claim of becoming a strong national opposition party than limiting itself to the east.
MAMATA’S NATIONAL AMBITIONS
It is now no secret that Didi has national ambitions. She was one of the forerunners for the call for a national opposition unity. When it became apparent that the Congress may not be in a position to lead the national opposition in its current state, the TMC began targeting the Congress party. TMC’s general secretary Abhishek Banerjee criticised the Congress for not taking its role as the principal opposition party seriously and for following “idle, armchair politics” (PTI, 2021). The TMC’s mouthpiece Jaago Bangla carried multiple pieces that either targeted the Congress or projected Mamata Banerjee as the national opposition face (Express News Service, 2021; Singh, 2021).
Given these ambitions, Mamata’s focus on Goa gains significance in two ways. Firstly, she is looking to occupy the void being created by Congress nationally which is comparable to BJP’s growth in Bengal and elsewhere in India. Secondly, if Mamata and her party could make their presence felt in more states, she would be in a stronger position to stake claim to be the face of a probable national opposition or a third front. At this point, one should also consider the plight of AAP, who could not make their presence felt in the assembly when they contested for the first time in 2017.
PRASHANT KISHOR’S STRATEGY
When Mr. Faleiro joined the Trinamool, he kept it no secret that he was approached by political strategist Prashant Kishor to join the party (TNN, 2021) and it’s a known fact that Prasanth Kishore and IPAC have worked for the TMC in West Bengal and they are leading TMC’s campaign in Goa and other places. The strategy to focus on small states first may pay off for them since such states are much easier to contest in than larger states like Uttar Pradesh. However, given that the TMC might cut more into the Congress vote banks than BJP’s, it is yet to see how TMC’s Goan and national ambition will unfold.
Although there were rumours that Prashant Kishor might be inducted into the Congress, these rumours appear to have been, well, just rumours. Firstly, his role in bringing Mr Faleiro to the TMC and then the recent spat between the Congress and the TMC over the political strategist’s tweet on the Congress’s revival (Phukan, 2021) seems to have laid to rest these rumours.
THE ROAD AHEAD
With the opposition being more scattered, both in Goa and in the national arena, the index of opposition unity seems to be in favour of the saffron giant. A nationwide unity among the various opposition parties is still miles ahead but not impossible considering the political history of India. The Trinamool’s expansionist moves look like an attempt to make Mamata a strong opposition leader, but are simultaneously harming the nascent growth of a joint national opposition. As for Goa, the contest has become more complex now and the likelihood of the BJP coming out as the single largest party or at the most a hung assembly emerging, is increasing. For TMC and Mamta Banerjee, it is more about spreading the wings across states and making their presence felt nationally which will finally help them claim more stake in the background of a probable third front evolving. So, what happens in Goa should not preferably stay in Goa.
This article is written by Goutham KA, Associate, Project, CPPR and Jedidiah Asriel, Research Intern, CPPR
Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
Featured Image Source: abp live
Express News Service. (2021, 30 September). TMC mouthpiece targets Congress, says those who want to join are welcome. The Indian Express. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/tmc-mouthpiece-targets-congress-says-those-who-want-to-join-are-welcome-7542858/.
H.T. Correspondent. (2021, October 24). ‘All parties must unite against BJP’: Mamata Banerjee ahead of visit to Goa. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/all-parties-must-unite-against-bjp-mamata-banerjee-ahead-of-visit-to-goa-101635011690620.html
Joshi, R. (1964). The General Elections in Goa. Asian Survey, 4(10), 1093–1101. https://doi.org/10.2307/2642211
Manoj, C. G. (2021, October 26). Congress asks TMC to introspect if it is strengthening BJP in Goa. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/goa/congress-tmc-bjp-goa-assembly-elections-surjewala-7591800/
Phukan, S. (2021, October 8). Congress-Prashant Kishor relationship sours. The Hindu. Retrieved, October 16, 2021, from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-quick-fix-solutions-to-partys-deep-rooted-problems-prashant-kishors-message-for-congress/article36892954.ece.
PTI. (2021, September 29). Congress needs to hit the streets, Shed ‘idle, Armchair Politics’: Abhishek Banerjee. The New Indian Express. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/sep/29/congress-needs-to-hit-the-streets-shed-idle-armchair-politics-abhishek-banerjee-2365498.html.
Shiv Sahay Singh. (2021, September 17). Not Rahul, Mamata is the real Opposition face’: Trinamool mouthpiece article sparks row. The Hindu. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/not-rahul-mamata-is-the-real-opposition-face-trinamool-mouthpiece-article-sparks-row/article36523609.ece.
TNN. (2021, October 1). Prashant Kishor played key role in me joining TMC, says Luizinho Faleiro. The Times of India. Retrieved October 16, 2021, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/kishor-played-key-role-in-me-joining-tmc-says-faleiro/articleshow/86665070.cms