In Numbers: Why BJP Appears Ahead In The Unusually Crowded Race In Goa
If even a fraction of the defectors’ vote base accrues to the BJP, it will be enough to swing the verdict the BJP’s way.
So, the highest probability is that the party will reach the halfway mark, or a bit more.
The forthcoming assembly elections in Goa are a forecaster’s delight and woe in equal parts, on account of the numerous variables, incongruities and uncertainties at play.
The Congress was the largest party in 2017, but failed to form the government. To make matters worse, it was also effectively gobbled up by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through a series of defections, over the succeeding two years.
Independents and unrecognised parties command a sixth of the popular vote. Since the constituencies are small in size, the ability of this segment to draw votes is amplified by local networks and familial connections. As a result, their vote share is often far greater than the margin of victory, and sometimes, large enough to win.
A new aspirant from West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), has tied up with a local party which was previously aligned with the BJP, and is aggressively seeking to make a grand entry. Another local party, also previously aligned with the BJP, is now with what’s left of the Congress.
An avowedly non-political outfit called ‘Revolutionary Goans’ (this definition forms the opening line of their website) has changed its mind and decided to get political; it seeks to capitalise on pockets of popularity to wrest a ‘Goa for Goans’, whatever that means.
Then there is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It might not have won anything in 2017, but it has enough of a presence in enough seats to increase the uncertainty factor greatly.
Adding to this heady mix is a spate of last-minute defections, desertions, and very local realignments, plus the standard tugs and shoves of repugnant identity politics (See here for a report on how the TMC egregiously invoked Christmas, Christianity, fear, and the Missionaries of Charity, to mark their foray into Goa).
Put together, these factors make Goan politics a severely congested space, within which, practising psephology can be injurious to one’s health. Yet, analyse we must.
The simplest way to understand the political dynamics of Goa is by comparing who won how many seats in the last assembly elections of 2017, and who holds how many now.
In 2017, the BJP got the most votes, but the Congress got more seats. The BJP won 13 (down eight from 2012) in a house of 40, and the Congress 17. But the BJP managed to cobble together a coalition with two local parties— the MGP (formally called the MAG) and the GFP — and independents, while the Congress slept.
Within a year, the Congress started disintegrating, and losing its legislators to the BJP. So much so that by 2019, the Congress had lost 14 MLAs, and its tally fell to just three. In effect, the Congress had all but ceased to exist in Goa.
This defection trend affected other parties as well, with two MLAs of the GFP, one of the MAG, and two independents, also joining the BJP. As a result, the BJP’s house strength at the end of 2021 was 31.
Table 1 also shows just how fractured the electorate in Goa is. Together, the BJP and the Congress commanded less than two thirds of the popular vote in 2017. The MAG drew over 11 per cent, the AAP got 6 per cent, and independents got 11 per cent.
This diversity of voting preferences means that the vote share required by a party other than the BJP, to win a seat, is usually around the 35 per cent mark. We say ‘other than the BJP’ because this party won 12 of its 13 seats in 2017 quite convincingly. The BJP’s average vote share in the seats it won was a thumping 46 per cent.
The dramatic changes effected by defections to the BJP post-2017 are best illustrated by two maps — one showing the results of the 2017 election, and one showing the house position at the end of 2021.
Map 1 highlights two key points. One, the BJP’s 2017 wins were mainly clustered in their region of dominance — north Goa, while the Congress did better in south Goa.
Two, the BJP failed to get closer to the halfway mark because it lost key seats in the north — seats which it won well in 2012 — to local parties. Part of this was also because of some dissent and disaffection, after the incredibly popular Manohar Parrikar demitted the chief minster’s seat to join Narendra Modi’s cabinet in Delhi.
Map 2 shows how the BJP responded. They didn’t just take from the MAG, the GPF and independents, seats which they should have won in 2017; by absorbing the bulk of the Congress, they also took back in South Goa, a few significant gains made by Parrikar in 2012 over old demographic trends.
Note: a comprehensive table of vote shares, results and margins of the 2017 elections, plus seat-wise defection details post-2017, is appended at the end of this piece.
With all this in the background, how are the various political parties poised for the 2022 elections?
The Congress has tied up with the GPF this time. This is a desperate alliance which may offer the Congress an opportunity to regain some material footholds, after its vote base was so comprehensively subsumed by the BJP through a series of defections.
But the GPF’s presence is limited to just three seats, of which, Saligao is now with the BJP. The Congress didn’t contest one of these three in 2017, and in the other two, got less than 10 per cent of the vote. So it is difficult to see how this alliance will translate into effective vote transfers.
Rather, it is more probable that a large section of the old Congress vote will switch to the AAP. This view is supported by a recent Times Now-Veto opinion poll in which the Congress vote share declines to under 20 per cent, and the AAP rises to 27 per cent, just behind the BJP.
Consequently, it is possible that the AAP may also replace the Congress as the second largest party in Goa.
The TMC has allied with the MAG (MGP) to get a leg up, but Goa is too congested for this alliance to bear much fruit. Besides, the MAG lost two of its three legislators to the BJP (both of which the BJP should have won in 2017 — Pernem and Sanvordem). Thus, the higher probability is that TMC or not, the MAG will be restricted to just the odd seat (possibly Marcaim).
However, the single largest contributor to uncertainty in forecasting is the ‘Others’ vote — independents and unrecognised parties. As a map below shows, it is substantial in Goa.
In 2017, the ‘Others’ got over 9 per cent of the vote in 22 seats, over 15 per cent in 17, and over 30 per cent in 10. It means that this non-BJP, non-Congress, non-regional party vote can influence outcomes in over half the seats, and possibly win in a quarter. This is the segment which parties like the AAP and TMC are eyeing.
This, then, is the situation in which the BJP seeks a renewed mandate. How will it fare?
The decimation of the Congress through mass defections will help the BJP to improve upon its 2017 performance. This will be further bolstered by defections from the MAG and the GPF.
It will also help the BJP offset internal dissent, desertions, anti-incumbency, higher indices of opposition unity, and the now-sadly absent Parrikar factor to some extent.
Of the 27 seats the BJP lost in 2017, or didn’t contest in, 18 winners have joined them. Of these 18, the BJP didn’t contest in three, and fared poorly in two. But in the balance 13, the BJP was a clear second. Also, readers must recollect that, in the 13 seats the BJP won, its vote share was a robust 46 per cent.
This means that if even a fraction of the defectors’ vote base accrues to the BJP, it will be enough to swing the verdict the BJP’s way.
In conclusion, the highest probability is that the BJP will reach the halfway mark, or a bit more, especially if a section of the old Congress vote switches to the AAP as expected.
All data from Election Commission of India website.
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