Is BJP afraid that Atanasio (Babush) Monserrate could upset their calculations in Panjim if he challenges their party candidate in the May 19 by-election?
Party president Vinay Tendulkar’s assertion that they will meet the former MLA and minister to request him not to contest appears that the party is not sure of being able to retain the seat that Manohar Parrikar held since 1994 till his death, except for a brief period when his nominee Siddharth Kuncolienkar kept the seat warm for him. There is no other reason for the BJP to want to request Monserrate to desist from contesting, than the fear of losing the seat. This is a democracy and a voter who meets the qualifications required has the right to contest from anywhere in the country.
Why is BJP afraid of a fight? Or is it that they are more afraid of the fight that Monserrate could put up, than of just a battle. Monserrate could play a crucial role in the by-election. A couple of years ago, in the 2017 elections, he contested from here as an independent backed by the Congress and lost by 1069 votes to Kuncolienkar. It was close, considering that the AAP candidate in that election had got around 1300 votes. Though AAP has fielded Valmiki Naik again, the BJP would not like to let their victory to depend on the number of votes a third party candidate may take. And now, Monserrate has the advantage of being a Congressman.
Monserrate has been eyeing the Panjim seat for a few years now and is not new to the city or the constituency. He may have lost once, but that does not rule him out as a strong contender. He controls the Corporation of the City of Panaji. His panel won the city elections despite him being in the opposition, an MLA from a neighbouring constituency and the BJP holding power at the time of the polls. The fact that Congress welcomed him into the party rather than let him contest as an Independent is indicative of the clout that he possesses in the constituency. The party has a number of ticket aspirants, but it now appears that they are ready to sacrifice their loyalists for Monserrate.
It is interesting to recall what Monserrate had said in December 2015, a little after Parrikar had quit the Assembly on being inducted in the Union cabinet. Speaking exclusively to Herald, Monserrate had said, “If I choose not to contest the by-election and the BJP fields even a chaprasi for Panjim seat the party is sure to win.” He didn’t contest, but his bravado of that time hasn’t abated. He lost two years later from this seat, but that’s not holding him back, as he once again positions himself as the only man who can break the spell that BJP has cast upon Panjim.
A few months after the general elections, when there was a by-poll in Panjim to allow Manohar Parrikar to enter the Assembly, Monserrate was expected to enter the fray again. Instead, Monserrate had joined the Goa Forward Party which is in alliance with the BJP. After the by-poll he was made chairman of the Greater Panaji Planning and Development Authority, a planning vehicle specially created to reward him for his support in the by-poll. He has now resigned as head of the PDA and from the GFP to foray into the Panjim by-poll and give BJP the toughest fight it has had in Panjim. A day later he joined the Congress.
The State capital is in for an interesting electoral battle. Whoever the BJP candidate, this is one by-poll that is going to perk the interest of the entire State. Out of power after losing in 2017, Monserrate is not going to miss this opportunity to make possible his re-entry into the Legislative Assembly. This is one by-election that will keep Goa on edge.