March 15, 2014

THE BATTLE OF THE NAIKS


SHRIPAD vs RAVI FOR NORTH GOA



The Bhandari Samaj is Goa's biggest caste in terms of numbers, constituting about 20 percent of the state's population. Come April 12, the North Goa seat is all set to witness a big clash amongst the two tallest leaders from the community. The seat is presently held by former Union Minister Shripad Naik, who has won from here continuously since the 1999 General Elections. Meanwhile, with the local Congress unit clearing the name of former Goa CM Ravi Naik to contest from this seat, the two backward caste leaders are set to fight against each other for the third time in political history of the state. I have stayed in this constituency for eight long years (four years in Panjim and another four in Porvorim) and hence have been following the political developments here for long. There is enough to indicate that the fight for Panjim is going to be the most keenly fought in this part of the country (Link).

A former member of the state legislature, Shripad Naik first contested from North Goa in 1999 Lok Sabha polls. As the party romped home to power in New Delhi, Shripad won a handsome victory, beating his closest rival and former Union Law Minister Ramakant Khalap of the INC by over 80,000 votes. In the Vajpayee cabinet, he held various portfolios as a junior minister. In the next big polls, even as the BJP fell out of favor across the country, Naik still won his seat. In 2009, even as the Congress consolidated its position and crossed the 200 mark, the North Goa seat still went to the saffron outfit. However, the margin was wafer thin. He just scrapped through, winning about six thousands votes more than his nearest rival NCP's Jitendra Deshprabhu. What works for Shripad Naik is his clean image. After having been in the murky politics for Goa for nearly three decades, no allegations of corruption or wrong-doing were ever raised against him. The second and perhaps the biggest plus point for Shripad is the fact that he has never switched parties. In a state like Goa where it is common for politicians to hop from one party to another, he is perhaps one of the few who have stood loyal to the BJP. One threat to saffron leader though is anti-incumbency. After electing BJP for 15 long years, you should not be surprised if North Goans chose the Congress this time around. Another factor that could damage his prospects could be the alleged differences between him and CM Manohar Parrikar. During the 2012 state polls (Link), Shripad who was said to be keen to contest from Porvorim was initially denied a ticket as he could be a potential competitor to the IITian post elections. Though he was offered a ticket later after his public outburst, the North Goa MP declined to contest. A split in the saffron ranks could prove suicidal for its prospcts here, especially with Ravi in the fray.

Ravi Naik, or the politics he does in many ways epitomizes the politics of the beach state, a state that has seen over 20 Chief Ministers in less than three decades. Hailing from the temple town of Ponda in central Goa, Ravi who is more known for his 'not so holy' activities. He began his career with the MGP. A legislator in the state assembly, he shot to prominence when he along with five other MGP MLAs joined the Congress in 1991. For this act, Ravi was made the Chief Minister and continued in the post till 1993. In June 1993, he became the first CM to be disqualified under the new Anti-Defection Law. He got another shot at the top job in 1994 but remained in the office for just seven days. Admist the chaos that Goa saw in the late nineties, he shifted his base to the Centre, winning on a Congress ticket from North Goa. In 2000, he walked into the BJP, serving as the Home Minister under Manohar Parrikar. However, he returned back to the Congress before the 2002 polls and won from Ponda for two consecutive terms. However, in 2012, after the BJP and MGP entered into a pre-poll alliance, former police officer Lavoo Mamledar defeated him by a margin of over 3000 votes. Ravi’s son Ritesh who contested against MGP heavyweight Sudhin Dhavalikar from Marcaim too was also routed.

In many ways, Ravi and Shripad complement each other. While the latter has stuck with the saffron brigade ever since he made his debut, the former has hopped from MGP to Congress to BJP and is back with the INC. Also, the former CM has a ‘tainted’ image amongst the people of the state. He is known to be power-hungry and his name has figured in several scams. Most notably, a Swedish model has accused him and his son of being involved in the drug trade. However, there are some things that work to his advantage. His humble origins and his amazing rise with in the state politics have won him many admirers, especially within his own community. The Muslims too have continuously backed him. Besides, with the Congress pushed to the walls in the state assembly polls after the drubbing that they got, it is expected that the INC leaders would unite and firmly support Ravi.

While their war to become the dominant leader of the Bhandari community in Goa has gone on for over two decades, the two Naiks have fought each other in politics on two different occasions. In 1994, Shripad Naik was the candidate of the BJP-MGP coalition in the state from the constituency of Marcaim. He was up against Ravi who had joined the Congress recently. Although Ravi was the incumbent Chief Minister of the state, the other Naik had the last laugh as he won by a handsome margin of 2700 votes. In 2002, the two were again locked in a political fight, this time from Ravi's stronghold of Ponda. Ravi had left the BJP and rejoined the INC once again. In a bid to teach him a lesson, the saffron party asked serving North Goa MP Shripad to contest against him and replicate the success of 1994. While much of the background between 1994 and 2002 was same, there was one major difference. This time around, the MGP was not in any kind of agreement with the BJP. The split in votes helped Ravi take revenge as he trounced the BJP leader by over 1000 votes. The upcoming polls for the 2014 Lok Sabha will be the third installation of this political rivalry with scores at present being one each.

There are a host of issues which will decide who wins the North Goa seat, this time around. The numerous scams and economic slump will hurt the INC whereas local topics like the ban on mining and Parrikar government's flip flops on the Medium of Instructions at the primary level are said to go against the BJP. In this contest which one can expect to go down to the wire, it could be the regional parties who will influence the final outcome. Getting the support of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) would be a big boost for Shripad. Remember, he lost to the former CM when his party was not in alliance with the MGP in 2002. The Congress on the other hand will need the help of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to put on a good show. However, convincing Pawar's outfit will be difficult. Earlier the INC always allowed its partner to nominate candidate from North Goa. It is highly unlikely that the NCP will not field a candidate from this seat if the talks wit the Congress fail. It was speculated that BJP rebel Vishnu Wagh would resign from the legislature and contest from this seat as a NCP candidate. Meanwhile, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) has nominated Dattaram Desai from here. Finally, the support of the Catholics and the Muslims too could decide the ultimate winner.