CRIMINAL: Contrary to the directive of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, Babush Monserrate, a candidate with a serious criminal record, has been given a ticket for the Panaji constituency by the BJP.
By Devika Sequeira
Capital city Panaji cannot be represented by someone charge-sheeted for attacking the Panaji Police Station and not yet cleared of charges against him for molesting a minor.
Utpal Parrikar’s plunge into the 2022 political churn, promises to make Panaji the most watched contest.
The BJP’s decision to go with Babush Monserrate and his gang of Congress defectors—seven of them are contesting on a BJP ticket—exposes the party’s weakened flank in Goa.
Manohar Parrikar’s closest admirers often argued that the former chief minister’s backroom deals (“settings” in local lingo) with Monserrate were a “necessary” compromise born of political compulsions.
Spurned, derided and mocked by the BJP that put itself on a higher moral perch, the “compromise” is now firmly ensconced in the bosom of the saffron party that needs Babush more than he needs them, because the fate of five seats in Tiswadi—Panaji, Taleigao, St Andre, Santa Cruz and even Cumbarjua, where Sripad Naik’s son Siddesh was denied the ticket—ride on the fabled and muscular electoral prowess of the man from Taleigao.
The Panaji seat has been with the BJP since Parrikar’s move into politics in 1994, except the by-election of 2019 when Monserrate won it on a Congress ticket.
Unlike Pratapsingh Rane’s wins in Poriem, Sudin Dhavlikar’s from Madkai and some seats in South Goa that registered huge margins of victories for some candidates, the fight for Panaji has never been easy even for Parrikar.
In 2002, he overtook the Congress by just 1200 odd votes; in 2007 by 1400 votes. Parrikar’s biggest margin (6000 plus votes) came in 2012, on the back of the anti- Congress wave.
In his first bid for the Panaji seat in the 2017 general election, Babush used the tactic of running as a United Goans Party candidate supported by the Congress. His logic being: ingrained BJP voters couldn’t be persuaded to vote on the Congress symbol. He lost to the BJP’s Siddarth Kuncalienkar by a difference of just 1069 votes (6855 to 7924).
AAP making a first time bid for Goa, put up Valmiki Naik. He got 1944 votes, these mostly from the Congress.
The 2017 result reveals Babush has probably a cultivated vote of around 4,000 in Panaji—cultivated from inducements and jobs given out through the CCP which he’s controlled for some years and which is now in the hands of his son and political heir, Rohit. Monserrate’s “captive” votes caused Manohar Parrikar not a little heartburn before every election.
The question is, can Babush make up the shortfall on a BJP ticket with Utpal in the contest?
The Congress’ 5,000 voter base in Panaji remained unshaken even when it was compelled to field a rank outsider to the constituency, Girish Chodankar (the party’s current PCC chief), against Parrikar in the 2017 by-election. That vote is unlikely to swing Babush’s way in 2022, and definitely not after the 2019 hijack of Congress MLAs.
Many would argue that Monserrate is no better or worse than most politicians currently in circulation. But I believe there are several compelling reasons to knock him off his over-rated winning-card pedestal and purge him from the political cocktail for good.
For one, however debased, no other MLA has led a mob attack on a police station—the capital city’s police station at that—to force the cops to release one of his arrested goons. The 2008 case has been revived on the persistence of the pit bull activist lawyer Aires Rodrigues and should be allowed to play out its legal course.
Incidentally, as most bullies—cowards at best—are inclined to do, Monserrate fled the scene of the attack riding pillion on a scooter. Whether in the BJP, Congress, UGDP, UGP, GFP, Babush has been the linchpin of defections in Goa.
His 2019 crossover with nine others from the Congress was the most brazen of voter swindles hatched in connivance with Pramod Sawant and Satish Dhond, the party’s organising secretary known to run the BJP show after Parrikar’s demise.
Contrary to the bluff that great development would follow his move to the ruling benches, Monserrate’s performance in Panjim adds up to zilch. His biggest achievement? A total u-turn on moving out the casinos, the standout promise of his 2019 election.
The city’s riverfront is today a tacky montage peopled by casino bouncers, touts, unruly tourists and Bollywood rocking river launches. Even the statue of Abbé Faria and its surroundings bear a decrepit look.
Despite his son in the mayor’s seat, Babush virtually conceded responsibility for development in Panaji to the smart city con which has spent Rs 13 crore of public funds on the Miramar beach project alone, to replace sand with concrete.
Utpal Parrikar has nothing to lose. If he loses, he goes back to his business and his quiet family life and can bide his time for another shot at draining the swamp. If he wins, he would emerge from his father’s shadow as a politician in his own right.
It’s realistic to assume that the Saraswats, purged with a vengeance from all positions of power by Sawant, will stand firmly with Utpal, funds and all, as will the party’s loyal ranks who feel side-lined by the imports from the Congress.
Other high-profile desertions, Laxmikant Parsekar, Dattaprasad Naik and Siddhesh Sripad Naik’s noises, signal more dissent and exits are likely to follow.
Panaji will see a three-cornered contest between the BJP, Congress and Utpal, with the rest playing just a marginal role.
Valmiki Naik who started out with promise in 2017, managed only 436 votes (lower even than Goa Suraksha Manch’s 516) in 2019 with most of AAP’s starry-eyed supporters deserting him to return to the Congress.
There’ no reason for the Congress vote to shift. Utpal has after all said his “heart and soul” are still with the BJP. He would never support a Congress government.
The Congress has shown a willingness to change. It has stood firm in rejecting the defectors and is no longer saddled with its bunch of oldies (two moved to TMC, one to BJP) who only wanted to be CM.
With the selection of former bureaucrat Elvis Gomes in Panjim, the party’s given its supporters the choice of a clean and educated face.
Ideally the contest in Panjim should be between the two clean and educated candidates, Utpal and Elvis. In rejecting the third, voters in the capital would be sending out a strong message to the rest of Goa. That it is possible to drain the swamp.
(The article appeared in yesterday’s Dainik Gomantak)