These are interesting stories of acute contrast. From the bazaars of Siolim, up North through the great ocean road of Morjim and Mandrem into another world of Russia and the rest of the cosmos, this Goa has existed cheek by jowl with a Goa which would seem to be a world apart, the Goa of the MGP, the RSS and the BJP. This chasm is known to fathom for those who know or who are in touch with both worlds. In Morjim and Arambol, the MGP has had a very traditional presence. As foreigners party and frolic in the shacks and the nightclubs, the homes are of traditional folk, many of them a part of the sangh parivar. Even as the template and the topography of these regions changed drastically, with businesses and the economy controlled by foreigners, the locals partook, participated and benefited from this influx. And this happy coexistence didn’t disturb lives or politics.
Laxmikant Parsekar and Dayanand Narveker have steered their political careers for decades along the sand and waters of Siolim and Mandrem, not letting the Russian dream turned nightmare, the nightclubs, shacks, the illegal jetties come in the way of their basic politics. They, especially Mandrekar, kept winning feeding into and taking out from a system which ran like a well-oiled machine.
Chief Minister Parsekar, meanwhile remained as the village teacher who taught many in schools and colleges, who took his support from the classroom to the political battlefield getting three terms as MLA.
And further up in Dhargal, Babu Azgaonkar won both on the Congress and the BJP tickets before Rajendra Arlekar, once the BJP’s number two man won from the new constituencies of Pernem.
So this has been a belt of BJP heavyweights. The Environment Minister, the Chief Minister and the Culture Minister in three constituencies, all in one line. But footprints on the sand do get washed. These or at least two of the heavyweight constituencies may well see new footprints. And this is the story of why the sands are shifting
Political changes, as many veteran poll watchers will tell you are never evident in the speeches or statements or even what people say. Sometimes one riveting picture and a few words, warn you of a weather change. And this moment of epiphany happened at the Baskin Robbins ice-cream shop on the main thoroughfare of Arambol. Babush Fernandes, who runs a chain of foreign exchange and money transfer shops in the entire north coastal belt, had done the unthinkable in 2012. This “traditional Congress family boy” became one of Laxmikant Parsekar’s main supporters, using his wide span of influence in Morjim and Arambol to convert votes. As he chatted with us at the Baskin Robbins store, the convoy of the MGP candidate Sridhar Mandrekar passed by. There was a shout out for him and the reed thin Mandrkar arrived at the ice-cream shop and hugged Babush Fernandes. They then posed for a picture. Fernandes said, “This year I’m with Dayanand Sopte, the Congress candidate and this is the MGP candidate. We are not against each other. We both want one man to lose.”
The Chief Minister will surely hope that this is not a microcosm of the sentiment of Mandrem. When we met him at his ancestral house in Harmal a week ago, he spoke about the ground realities and had said, “In every election I double my lead. And I will do so this time too. You won’t believe what the margin will be.” And away from the madding crowds of the beach belt, and it’s crazy contrasts, where bikini draped women hugging their partners on bikes get stuck in a jam, with a local family on a scooter, ‘Sir’ Parsekar finds solace in the quiet village of Keri where he went to a family and spoke to a group of 20, many of them women. Parsekar sees hope in the schemes of his government and the promise of more jobs to be created.
As you walk away from Keri and bid goodbye to Parsekar, it’s tempting to believe that this image of him in a family home with neighbours pledging support to him, will be stronger picture than the one of the the Sopte supporter and the MGP candidate hugging each other on Arambol beach. But this image and this narrative of the CM managing to hold his fort, gets challenged in other conversations across Mandrem and Pernem where BJP insiders tell you of the changing script. And this should worry the BJP here more than anything else.
On the road to Arambol from Pernem, is the home of Parashuram Kodkar. Manohar Parrikar should remember him because both of them entered the Assembly together in 1994, when BJP had just four MLA’s. Kodkar was an MGP MLA. Kodkar, is a wily fox – the Radharao Gracias of Pernem taluka. In the last elections, he played a winning mischief to get Rajendra Arlekar elected by saying in a public meeting that Babu Azgaonkar had insulted Pednekars by his statement made in Margao, “Just throw loaves at Pernem people and they will come running”. It turned out that Azgaonkar never made the statement. Kodkar, with an impish grin told Herald, “I had to do something to make Rajendra Arlekar win and Azgaonkar lose. It’s all fair.” Today Kodkar breathes fire and venom at his old friend and colleague Parrikar and the BJP and reads out the same charge-sheet that AAP and the Congress have drafted against the BJP. And guess what, this year Kodkar is with the Babu Azgaonkar, who left the Congress and is now the MGP candidate
On the Pernem highway, Azgaonkar, the strongman of Margao’s Gandhi market, sits in his makeshift office and laughs, “I’ve won this seat, no problem”. While that’s his claim and endorsement will be done only on March 11, an 85-year-old lady who walked for close to three kilometres to attend one of this functions, should be cause for real hope for Azgaonkar and despair for Arlekar. She sat in a corner as the meeting started and then walked up to Azgaonkar and said, ‘Babu stop all this, Let me embrace you.” Azgaonkar left the meeting to embrace the old lady and dropped her home.
Pernem and Mandrem live on stories and anecdotes and these go viral in the old fashioned word of mouth way in tea shops, bars and the roadside.
Siolim is getting to be another potboiler of an election where the ‘undefeatable heavyweight” Culture Minister Dayanand Mandrekar, is facing a classical culture shock, with the soft spoken student of Pandit Jeetendra Abhisehki, Vinod Paleyekar, making Siolim sing the tune of change. This is Goa Forward’s only solo seat and Paleykar who still performs classical concerts all over the world, has a very serious chance of upsetting the Mandrekar apple cart and hegemony over a lot that goes on in this tourist filled constituency, with the Congress block pledging support.
There different forces are challenging these BJP heavyweights in the ruling party’s watertight stronghold, an indication that change, more than the changer is the trigger.