What Goa can learn from West Bengal

By Cleofato A Coutinho
10 May 2021 17:13 IST

Politics is seldom discussed amidst death and tragedy.  But in a country which is now reduced to a ‘land of elections’, electoral debates can never be halted. After an unprecedented election in West Bengal, which shattered the invincibility of the robust, well-oiled BJP election superstructure; political scientists are at pains to foresee its impact on general elections in 2024. They are discussing various models. After Lallu Yadav and Nitish Kumar humbled the incredible election machinery of Narendra Modi & Amit shah in 2015, it was thought, it was time for a ‘gathbandhan‘in the country. The country looked at Nitish Kumar through the same eyes as they look at Mamata Bannerji today. Gopal Krishna Gokhale had said.  ‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow?’ West Bengal has brought a ray of hope to the opposition, whose sagging morale has been boosted. Whether regional forces should come together like the 2015 ‘gathbandhan’ of Bihar or   non BJP parties could give Maharashtra’s MVA experiment may not have   been answered in west Bengal. They gave another   model for the country overrun by a majoritarian narrative.

West Bengal has many lessons for Goa, There are many similarities. The demography of the people is almost similar (they are also fish lovers!). There were   large number of turncoats who shifted to BJP. The Bengali liberal activists were fearful of BJP triumph. It was a test for Bengali inclusiveness. The Insider- outsider narrative was at play. Didi was facing a ten year anti- incumbency. The political capital of the central ruling party is fast diminishing due to the mismanagement of the Covid crisis and the resultant avoidable human devastation not known in recent history.

 The ruling party is bound to face a stiff political opposition from the people. How the opposition shall harvest the public disenchantment over the covid-19 health crisis due to complacency bordering on criminal culpability is to be seen.  

The ten years of Didi’s rule had a share of corruption with the culture of syndicates from the left era being pervasive. Extortion could not be controlled. But the good part is that the kingpins of all that was rotten during the 10 years of TMC misrule found shelter under the BJP’s roof possibly to insulate themselves from central agencies

Against this TMC regime, the seven years of NDA had nothing much to showcase. The regime highlighted a crackdown on dissent with  media not raising appropriate questions, repression of the   marginalized, total collapse of covid management,  economic  distress trust upon by a thoughtless demonetization, rural distress  and farmers’ stir over the three farm bills, and failure to tackle the unemployment. But as Sudeendra Kulkarni puts what mattered the most was fear of the damage to Bengali culture and in all-inclusive ethos by hindu supremacist Ideology. Goa also has the best of unifying cultural traditions like Bengal. If Didi did her bit in halting the ‘one country, one party, one leader project’, Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will be put on test over that project in 2022.

In Goa, the ruling BJP has dismantled the principal opposition party by inducting two thirds of it’s sitting MLAs.   The exodus of the stalwarts from TMC made it vulnerable. The campaign against the traitors worked very   well.  148 of the 294 candidates were turncoats. 142 were defeated. The opposition in Goa has been given a great opportunity to provide new and credible faces who will not sell the people’s mandate for money or power. Too many times people’s mandates are stolen with ‘susegado goans’ taking  the contempt lying down.   

Congress and Left Parties had their alliance in the West Bengal elections, in their endeavor not to give permanently give up political space. They   may be politically right though many expected them to provide a helping hand to Didi in her fight against resource intensive BJP. The people are wise enough to understand the political nuances. The Indian secular front and the AIMIM were not permitted to cut into the Muslim votes by strategic voting.  The Congress bastions of Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur were decimated as the people shifted lock, stock and barrel in aid of  Bengali asmitai. 

But at the heart and the soul of the battle was that emotion laden credible leader putting up a spirited fight. Mamata Bannerji is a fighter who would not give up. The threat from central agencies did not deter her. She dared to win and succeeded. Her government may have been corrupt, her credibility was immaculate and her anti elite political rethoric was in tune with state of the society.  Her simplicity and humility endeared her to the masses. People were prepared to forgive her for the culture of syndicates to protect their culture from outsiders. Nitish Kumar’s simplicity and credibility was also high in 2015. He battered it to the other side for power. He is now a poor shadow of himself.

The major lesson for the opposition in Goa is to have apolitically savvy credible leader who can   read Goa’s pulse. People want to have a chief ministerial candidate whose name and face they trust. The days of high commands trusting chief ministers on the people are over. Though ours is not a presidential scheme, the credibility of prospective chief ministerial candidate matters the most.

TMC has an organization which can take the welfare schemes to the people and the party can depend for booth management. Though there are advantages of a cadre based party, Goa is a tiny state easy to manage even without cadres.

The CAA was designed for West Bengal, but the people of all communities   did not to cede space to politics of hate and hatred.    That has provided a ray of hope for 2022 in case this raging pandemic permits holding of elections.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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