The spectacular failure of the Trinamool Congress in the Goa polls - it failed to win even a single seat - has come as a dampener for the party that had sought to use the elections in the western coastal state to widen its reach beyond Bengal and emerge as the nucleus of opposition unity to take on the BJP in 2024.
The TMC had hoped to grow at the cost of the Congress. However, what it did was to prove a spoiler for both the Congress and itself. A look at the pattern of polling makes it clear that the Congress lost a few seats owing to the division of anti-BJP votes.
This has happened particularly in those south Goa constituencies where Christians had a decisive vote share and the BJP had not been able to shore up support for itself. TMC candidates gobbled up a share of the anti-BJP vote, resulting in victories for BJP candidates.
The TMC had hoped to get a few MLAs elected in Goa in order to present itself as an all-India party. But this failed to happen and now, it is uncertain how much energy, money and effort the party will invest in party-building in Goa between the recent elections and the next one in 2027.
Unlike the TMC, the Congress has big stakes in Goa. It had ruled the state for several years and was hoping to return to power this time. But this did not happen.
The reasons are many. The party had been reduced to a ridiculous position in 2017, despite having emerged as the single largest party with 17 seats, yet unable to form the government. There were two reasons for this. First, it could not elect a legislature party leader acceptable to all factions. Secondly, it did not start talks with the smaller parties and Independents for an alliance. The BJP beat the Congress on both counts: it had a clear leader in Manohar Parrikar and had struck a deal with the smaller parties and Independents.
Sudin Dhavalikar, the supreme leader of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, revealed a few months ago that his party, which had won three seats in the last elections, was waiting for the Congress to approach them for an alliance, but since it did not, his party went over to the BJP.
This time, weeks before counting, the Congress had set up a dialogue with the MGP and even the TMC and AAP for a possible alliance. The party was also unanimous in electing Digambar Kamat as its legislature party leader. It had even planned to take its MLAs to a resort to prevent poaching by the BJP.
But its plans went wrong. The first reason was that the party failed to rebuild at the grassroots in constituencies where its MLAs had switched over to the BJP. While crossing over, the MLAs also took away a large number of loyal party workers with them. The Congress needed to build its cadres in those constituencies, but the efforts directed towards this purpose were not wholehearted.
The second reason was that the party did not select the right candidates in some constituencies. There was confusion about the selection process. First, party leaders said the candidate would be selected out of the three names the local party workers would nominate. In some cases, the candidate who was picked from the list was not strong enough. In other cases, the candidate was imposed from above by party leaders, overriding the workers’ list.
The third reason was the party did not work hard enough in constituencies where the competition was likely to go down to the wire. In some constituencies, the party lost by wafer-thin margins. By focussing attention on these and with some extra effort, it could have won them.
The 2022 Goa results have once again taught Congress the lesson it has failed to learn - It has to outwit the BJP when it comes to the organization of its election machinery. The BJP machinery goes down to the grassroots. It has developed a way of identifying, categorizing and motivating voters. That is why even after winning just 13 seats in the last assembly poll and despite its bumbling and lacklustre governance, it managed to win close to a majority in the state. And that is why once again, the Congress could not come close enough to a majority to be able to attract smaller parties and Independents.