Like Mayawati like Manohar: Social engineering redux in Goa (Goa Newsletter)

March 11th, 2012 - 3:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Panaji, March 11 (IANS) If Mayawati stormed to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 riding on the electoral shoulders of Brahmins and Dalits, Manohar Parrikar has similarly rewritten the ’social engineering’ primer for Goa.

For the last four years now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been desperately reaching out to the sizeable 23 percent-strong Christian community here, which has played a potential but hesitant suitor, thanks to the party’s ‘infamy’ inherited from states like Gujarat and Karnataka.

The party even offered six out of the 28 seats it contested in the March 3 polls to Christian nominees and backed two other independent Christians candidates.

On Friday, the BJP gave a clear positive signal to the minority community after coming to power in Goa - two Christians were inducted in the six-member cabinet headed by Parrikar, while one Christian independent is expected to be given a berth soon.

The pro-active overtures have brought in rich returns for the BJP. Not just in terms of winning a simple and slender majority of 21 in the 40-member state assembly but also in the unprecedented breaking of tentative ice with the main minority community in Goa, which is key to electoral fortunes here.

“Ever since I took over as secretary in charge of Goa, our main focus was to reach out to the 23 percent vibrant Christian community here. It was my endeavour to meet fathers (Catholic priests) and teachers and members of the community all over Goa during my visits here,” according to Aarti Mehra, BJP’s secretary in-charge of the state.

Mehra’s brief was to engage with the key stakeholders and members of the minority community and create a sense of confidence about the party, which was kept at an arms distance by the minority community.

Mehra’s efforts to dispel the doubts that Goan Christians had about the party formed stage two of the BJP’s minority overdrive.

Stage one was a long-drawn exercise called ‘Mission Salcete’, a Christian dominated sub-district in south Goa.

With seven rural constituencies, Salcete has been considered a Congress bastion. Barring the Fatorda constituency represented by the BJP for two terms now, dethroning the Congress from other constituencies in Salcete like Velim, Benaulim, Navelim, Nuvem, Curtorim and Cuncolim seemed virtually ‘Mission Impossible’ for the BJP.

This time the BJP proved cynics wrong. The Congress managed to win only one out of the seven rural Salcete seats (Curtorim), while the others were bagged by the BJP, independents and the Goa Vikas Party (GVP), all of which have pledged support to the BJP-led coalition government.

Constituency management apart, lead chief ministerial candidate Manohar Parrikar’s apology early in the campaigning phase about eliminating ‘Good Friday’ from the list of public holidays struck a chord with the minority community here.

“Let me assure you that these things were never intentional and will never be repeated,” Parrikar told a media conference earlier.

Of significance also is former cabinet minister Churchill Alemao’s rant Thursday that “80 percent of the clergy worked against the Congress” in the 2012 polls.

The church’s subtle messages to its flock in the two weeks before the polls to consult their conscience before voting for corrupt candidates took its toll on the Congress, which in public perception appeared to have slipped into an arrogant resonance. Earlier pre-poll advisory messages had invariably cautioned the electorate against voting for “communal forces”.

Father Eremito Rebelo of the Goa archdiocese told the Catholic news service Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) that Goa church’s exhortation for “ethical voting” impacted the results in a big way.

“There is little doubt that the church exhortations have helped the BJP victory,” Fr Rebelo said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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