Lying midway between Goa’s coast to the west and the Western Ghats to the east, Goa’s Bicholim taluka is somewhat stuck in the doldrums — a case of neither here nor there and much of that has reflected in the character of the taluka.
To avail of a good job in Goa, the people of this taluka have had to migrate to Goa’s more urban areas or be involved in mining. Emigrate because the taluka was for decades together poorly connected to the state capital city despite being not very far as the crow flies. It was only after under the leadership of Manohar Parrikar and the building of two bridges — from Aldona to Corjuem and to Poira and Amona to Marcel that some semblance of connectivity came for the taluka.
Made up of three constituencies — Bicholim, Sanquelim and Maem (with part of Maem constituency including Chorao island which falls in Tiswadi taluka) the BJP is hoping for a clean sweep as it did in 2017 when Rajesh Patnekar won from Bicholim, Pramod Sawant won from Sanquelim and Harish Zantye won from Maem.
But that hasn’t always been the case. In 2012, Naresh Sawal was elected as a independent from Bicholim at the expense of Rajesh Patnekar who incidentally had quit the BJP and joined the Congress on the prodding of Vishwajit Rane only to lose his seat while Sawal who was a Congressman until then, quit in protest and contested as an independent. In neighbouring Sanquelim Pramod Sawant was elected polling more than double the votes of Pratap Gauns of the Congress then a sitting MLA. In Maem the BJP’s Anant Shet retained his seat defeating nearest rival Pravin Zantye who was then contesting as an independent the “Congress” seat having been handed to Rudresh Chodankar who was contesting on an NCP ticket sponsored by Vishwajit Rane.
In truth Bicholim taluka has never voted in unison. While predominantly a taluka dominated by the Bahujan Samaj, the constituency has long faced neglect from those in power who only looked upon it for the mineral wealth that lay beneath. With mining now having come to a halt, having never really recovered after the 2012 ban, the taluka is once again up for grabs.
Unlike other constituencies where the BJP may be facing a problem of plenty, in Bicholim taluka the party has very little to do in terms of choosing candidates — Patnekar and Sawant are sure to retain their seats with questions marks only above Pravin Zantye who is facing very vocal opposition and anti incumbency form people of the state who accuse the cashewnut magnate of neglecting them.
Patnekar is expected to go up against Naresh Sawal this time on an MGP ticket (he narrowly lost in 2017) and Meghashyam Raut of the Congress in what is likely to be a three cornered fight — depending of course on the final alliances that are to be worked out. In neighbouring Sanquelim the Congress holds control of the Sanquelim Municipal Council after wresting the seat from the BJP and holding on to it despite the ruling BJP deploying every trick in the book to ensure that their man remains chairperson. But Sawant retains hold of the rural areas of the taluka which gives him an edge in the constituency.
That leaves us with Maem where there is more than one player eying a chance to wrest the seat. The Goa Forward’s Santosh Kumar Sawant, who was with the Congress in 2017 is also hoping for a shot.
Much remains up in the air for this taluka that many in the major political parties seem to take for granted, yet it remains a significant stepping stone towards acquiring power in the state. It’s here that the BJP has a clear advantage. Can it make it count?
By – Andrea Fernandes