Advantage Monserrate as veteran politico takes on 2 newcomers in Panaji - Hindustan Times
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Advantage Monserrate as veteran politico takes on 2 newcomers in Panaji

ByGerard de Souza
Feb 11, 2022 04:16 PM IST

It is Parrikar’s legacy that is now being contested in the battle for Panaji. The ruling BJP that is admittedly a different party than the one that Parrikar built from the ground in Goa has said it is the rightful claimant of his legacy. Parrikar’s elder son Utpal quit the party after the Panaji ticket was handed to Monserrate ignoring his claims.

For a capital city, Panaji is a rather small place. In fact, with the number of eligible voters in the constituency being a little above 22,000, around 15,000 of whom actually turn up to vote, it is among the smallest constituencies in the state.

Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate is up against two relative newcomers -- Parrikar’s elder son Utpal is contesting his first election while Congress candidate Elvis Gomes who joined politics five years ago is contesting for the first time in Panaji. (ANI PHOTO.)
Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate is up against two relative newcomers -- Parrikar’s elder son Utpal is contesting his first election while Congress candidate Elvis Gomes who joined politics five years ago is contesting for the first time in Panaji. (ANI PHOTO.)

Yet the capital that was not more than a sleepy town before glitzy casinos were allowed to anchor in the Mandovi River that ebbs and flows alongside, gave India a Defence Minister, the highest position any Goan politician has yet reached and a four-time Chief Minister.

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His passing left a void in the Goa BJP that has been difficult to fill, established by the fact that the party lost the by-election to fill the vacancy resulting from his death in 2019 for the first time in two and a half decades when Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate wrested the seat from the BJP, then as a Congress candidate only to later switch sides to the BJP.

ALSO READ | Monserrate ‘best represents aspirations of people’: Goa BJP

It is Parrikar’s legacy that is now being contested in the battle for Panaji. The ruling BJP that is admittedly a different party than the one that Parrikar built from the ground in Goa along with his contemporaries Shripad Naik Laxmikant Parsekar and others, has said it is the rightful claimant of his legacy. Parrikar’s elder son Utpal quit the party after the Panaji ticket was handed to Babush Monserrate ignoring his claims.

The ruling party has weathered scorn from its loyalists after it stuck with Monserrate despite a long list of criminal charges he is facing, something the BJP was using to target him when he was in the Congress.

Monserrate is up against two relative newcomers -- Parrikar’s elder son Utpal is contesting his first election while Congress candidate Elvis Gomes who joined politics five years ago after prematurely retiring from the civil services is contesting for the first time in Panaji, a city he once served as commissioner during his tenure as a civil servant.

By contrast Monserrate has been contesting elections since 2002 besides also taking active part in the elections for the Corporation of the City of Panaji, where his son Rohit is currently mayor. Choosing to campaign from door to door each time there’s an election, Monserrate has nurtured a well-oiled election machinery and network of volunteers who make sure their leader wins the polls. Monserrate proved his calibre when during the municipal elections held in March 2021 his ‘panel’ of candidates won 25 of the 30 seats up for grabs giving him near total control of the city council.

Monserrate says he expects to comfortably sail through in the upcoming polls sans any hiccups.

Monserrate has been crisscrossing the nooks and corners of the city with a band of around 100 supporters in tow as he has been doing for innumerable elections in the past. He knocks on each door along with the help of a local contact who guides him around. “His power to win by promising to take care of their ‘needs’ wins him support. Besides, he has been around for a while and people know what to expect,” a local journalist, who declined to be named, said.

He doesn’t expect Utpal Parrikar, who is likely to take away a core BJP vote, to make a major dent in the prospects of Atanasio Monserrate.

Son of former Panaji MLA Manohar Parrikar, Utpal has thrown his hat in the ring vowing that he wasn’t prepared to sit still as the BJP, the party his father helped build in the state, handed out tickets to a person with a criminal record.

While the rest of the constituencies in Goa have seen two elections between 2012 and now (2012 and 2017) and some have seen three (including by elections), Panaji has seen five -- the general assembly election in 2012, the by-election after Parrikar moved to Delhi as Union Defence Minister, the 2017 general assembly election, the 2017 by election after Parrikar returned from Delhi and the 2019 by election after Parrikar’s passing.

On the ground Monserrate has outpaced his rivals when it comes to the number of doors he has knocked on, but his chances hinge on how many votes Utpal can win over.

The inexperienced Utpal has won much sympathy from across the state for taking a stand against the party even if it likely means that his fledgling political career could get grounded even before it takes off. The inexperienced Utpal, however, hasn’t been active in the constituency other than via a core group of former aides of his father who he is banking on to build a base for himself.

If the number of supporters who accompany the three candidates is any indication, then Monserrate is a clear winner.

Panaji has traditionally been a constituency of narrow margins. Four of the six times that Parrikar won the constituency he did so with a margin of less than 1,500 votes. In 2012 and 2017 he polled respectable margins of 6,000+ and 4,000+ votes respectively.

“Babush has the advantage in the city and unless Utpal takes more than a fair chunk of the BJP vote, which doesn’t seem likely, I don’t expect Monserrate will lose the elections. There is no doubt that Utpal has support, but the question is about his margin,” Barnabe Sapeco, a resident of the city, said.

Barring an unlikely upset, Monserrate is likely to romp home victorious in the state capital.

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