After initial campaign blitz, TMC loses ground in Goa poll contest

ByGerard de Souza, Hindustan Times, Panaji
Feb 04, 2022 04:30 AM IST

For a while it seemed the Trinamool was out to replace the Congress in Goa -- not unlike what happened in Meghalaya where 12 of 16 Congress leaders shifted allegiances to the Trinamool on November 25 last year, immediately making it the principal opposition party in the state.

 Not too long ago, social media ads advertising the Trinamool Congress began to emerge as Goans scrolled through their social media accounts, offering the first hints that the party, fresh from successfully staving off a challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party in West Bengal, was looking to set up shop in Goa.

TMC leader Leander Paes interacts with a fish seller, in south Goa. (ANI)
TMC leader Leander Paes interacts with a fish seller, in south Goa. (ANI)

Then, on September 30, the party swooped in and poached several Congress leaders, led by former Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, who barely a few weeks earlier had told the media that he wasn’t interested in returning to the helm of affairs at the Congress on account of his age. He is 70.

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For a while it seemed the Trinamool was out to replace the Congress in Goa -- not unlike what happened in Meghalaya where 12 of 16 Congress leaders shifted allegiances to the Trinamool on November 25 last year, immediately making it the principal opposition party in the state.

Billboards sporting the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s face became ubiquitous across Goa, as the party embarked on a publicity blitzkrieg. Tennis ace Leander Paes whose father traces his origins to Goa was deputed to campaign for the party and he set about earnestly playing football with village kids, buying fish at the local markets, and reaching out to influencers .

Goa, it was clear, was the state from where the Trinamool hoped to launch its national ambitions.

Now, four months later, and on the cusp of polling in Goa, the wheels have come off the Trinamool bandwagon. Two members of the initial team that joined the TMC have since quit accusing the party of failing to stick by its ideals and promises, while a third had publicly spoken out against the party while not quitting just yet.

Faleiro himself who was initially announced as the party’s candidate for the Fatorda constituency to take on Goa Forward supremo Vijai Sardesai withdrew from the race on the last day of filing of nominations, throwing his weight behind Seoula Vas a young lawyer who was chosen to contest after attempts by the Trinamool leadership to convince him to fight the elections failed.

The party seems to have had to make do with candidates rejected by other parties -- eight of the 25 candidates announced by the party were brought on board after they failed to make the list of the Congress or the BJP, while two more are among those who quit the Congress for the TMC anticipating that they were not being considered for a ticket. The pinnacle was when Goa Forward candidate quit the party after he was denied a ticket and within hours was announced as the TMC’s candidate from the St Andre constituency.

Differences between the party’s nominees and foot soldiers of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), the Prashant Kishor outfit running the TMC operation in Goa have come to the fore as have differences between leaders. For instance, veteran politician Churchill Alemao and his daughter Valanka, who are both contesting the election on TMC tickets have, on more than one occasion, displayed displeasure with either party’s choice of candidates or the stance adopted by the party on issues such as fishing.

That the party welcomed in the new entrants at the cost of those who joined earlier was the cause of much consternation among the (relatively) old guard

“Party hoppers have found a place as candidates and though I am a founder member of TMC who joined before Didi (Party chairperson Mamata Banerjee) in Kolkata on 29th September my name (candidature) has been kept on hold. I feel the above politics is neither credible nor rooted in ideology. I do not wish to be a party to or involve myself with such a kind of politics which is bereft of all principles... seeing the manner in which the party is functioning, I find no good reason to continue being a member of the Trinamool Congress,” member Yatish Naik, said in a letter on January 26, announcing his resignation from the party.

But perhaps what best encapsulated the rise and fall of the Trinamool Congress in Goa was Congressman Reginaldo Lourenco’s move in and out of the party. The three-time MLA from Curtorim seemed set to leave the Congress, but then he allowed himself to be mollified and won over by the Congress leadership and recommitted himself to the party. A few weeks later, on December 20, in a move that took his own family by surprise, Lourenco, announced that he was quitting the Congress and joining the TMC because it had both the ability and the intent to defeat the BJP.

Within three weeks of joining, on January 16, he quit the TMC claiming his “own friends started despising him” and that the new dawn that he was promised was only a mirage.

“I was promised a new dawn. I thought there would be a lot of changes in the system. But nothing materialised,” Lourenco said, explaining the reasons for exiting the TMC.

Analysts say that this was when the TMC sought an alliance with the Congress.

By then however, Congress-TMC relations had turned bitter prompting the party to rebuff the TMC.

“If they wanted an alliance they should have come in a good way. You can’t poach our MLAs and then ask for an alliance,” AICC desk in charge of Goa Dinesh Gundu Rao, said.

“Reginaldo’s leaving the party was a fatal blow to the TMC story in Goa as it revealed that the party was yet to be accepted by the people of Goa. Many of the leaders who joined the party at the beginning have realised that the grass is not always greener on the other side,” Adv Cleofato Almeida Coutinho, a political columnist said.

Despite the recent setbacks, the Trinamool Congress can win a handful of constituencies and remains on track to open its account in the state, despite having entered only four months ago, something the AAP was unable to do back in 2017.

The Trinamool Congress has however, said it remains a strong contender, and that along with alliance partner Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party “represents the most credible political alternative for the electors in Goa.”

“We do lament the departure of some of our members who have left us, but everyone cannot be given a ticket. We remain confident that a higher number of alliance nominees would be closer to victory in the hustings,” Prof Om Prakash Misra, the media-incharge of the Trinamool Congress said.

“All the 39 alliance nominees have been able to mobilise an adequate number of volunteers and both door-to-door as well as group meetings in the constituencies are in full swing. In the next few days, the campaign will pick up further momentum as restrictions ease.”

This is the Trinamool Congress’ second attempt at trying to establish a presence in Goa. In 2012, it sought to establish a beachhead under the leadership of former Chief Minister Wilfred de Souza.

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