MARGAO: With poll pundits predicting a fractured mandate in the assembly polls, the backroom channels of the two major political parties of the state—BJP and Congress—are already engaged in talks with some key independent candidates who are likely to emerge triumphant, in a bid to win them over to their respective sides.
There are 58 independents in the fray this time, a 22% dip in numbers compared to the 2012 assembly polls. Of the 72 candidates who had contested as independents in the 2012 polls, five had made it to the assembly, the maximum the state had ever elected. Vijai Sardesai from Fatorda, Avertano Furtado from Navelim, Benjamin Silva from Velim, Naresh Sawal from Bicholim, and Rohan Khaunte from Porvorim, made their mark in the last assembly. Though all five are seeking to return to the assembly the second time and have their fates sealed in the February 4 polls, Sardesai is contesting on Goa Forward Party (GFP) of which he is the mentor, while Sawal has been nominated by MGP.
All the five independents had together polled 1,41,517 votes, translating into 16.67% of the total votes polled during 2012 polls. Of the 58 independents in fray this time, 33 are from south Goa constituencies while north Goa has 25.
The BJP has fielded its candidates in 36 constituencies and strategically backed independents in several others, while the Congress contested 37 seats. Both the parties are hoping to form the government with the help of the independents in case they fall short of the magic figure of 21. The role of victorious independent candidates would thus become crucial as they could hold the key to government formation. “The independents would be ever willing to shake hands with the single largest party to form the winning coalition and negotiate for a “suitable” berth as their pound of flesh,” a political observer said.
Sources informed that BJP has already reached out to at least five independent candidates. Notwithstanding the confidence exuded by the BJP brass of winning 23-24 seats, the saffron party is not willing to take any chances in the seats falling in the “uncertain” category. Party sources disclosed that Sanguem, Canacona, Santa Cruz, Cuncolim and Vasco constituencies are those which the BJP has categorized into this class and a “top leader” is already in touch with the “strong” independents from these constituencies in case they manage to win these seats. Prasad Gaonkar from Sanguem, Ramesh Tawadkar from Canacona, Rudolf Fernandes from Santa Cruz, Joaquim Alemao from Cuncolim and Krishna ‘Daji’ Salkar from Vasco—all independents—are the ones who may be poached by BJP if the situation so desires.
Poll watchers do not negate the probability of Gaonkar emerging triumphant in the closely contested three-cornered battle in Sanguem. The independent ‘tribal’ candidate has challenged BJP’s incumbent MLA Subhash Phal Desai and Congress candidate Savitri, wife of Quepem MLA Chandrakant Kavleker. Caste politics plays a crucial role in the polls in this constituency, and if tribal votes switch over to Gaonkar considerably, Phal Dessai could well be in real trouble, though poll observers feel Phal Dessai will pull through.
Similar is the situation in Canacona, where BJP rebel, Tawadkar, is engaged in a three-cornered contest with BJP’s Vijay Pai Khot and Congress’ Isidore Fernandes. Poll watchers say, Tawadkar, who is riding high on sympathy crest after being denied nomination by the BJP, may well emerge victorious in a contest that turned out to be increasingly unpredictable in the days running to the polls.
In Cuncolim, poll watchers say, the multi-cornered contest could sway any which way, and it is this unpredictability that has led to BJP open talks with Alemao.
In Vasco, BJP rebel Krishna ‘Daji’ Salkar has challenged incumbent MLA Carlos Almeida. In the not-so-unlikely probability of Salkar emerging victorious, he would be the much sought after prey of the poaching parties.
In Santa Cruz, Rudolf Fernandes is contesting as independent after being denied nomination by Congress. Political observers feel he would willingly come in aid of the saffron party in case the situation so warrants.
In Navelim, though fisheries minister Avertano Furtado is contesting as an independent, he has been officially backed by BJP and is thus a natural ally of the saffron party.
Sources informed that Congress, too, is in talks with a couple of “strong” independent candidates, however, political observers say its poaching power has been substantially reduced owing to its own “mismanagement”.
A political observer succinctly summed up the situation in case of a fractured mandate: “The independents will then be worth their weights in gold.”