Love and roses will not form the backdrop for this Valentine's Day in Goa, which is headed for a tough electoral contest, where the ruling BJP and the Congress, continue to be the focal point in state politics, even as newer, more aggressive parties appear to have been relegated to the margins.
A total of 11,56,464 voters are eligible to cast ballot in the February 14 assembly polls, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is looking to fight off severe anti-incumbency accumulated over its successive governments headed by former Chief Minister late Manohar Parrikar and his successor Pramod Sawant.
The BJP is, however, confident of victory, with its leaders claiming that the party's pitch of a "double-engine government" winning favour with the electorate, especially with nearly Rs. 25,000 crore in central funds pumped into the state since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power in the national capital in 2014.
"Goa has been in a position to get unprecedented central government funding for the last eight years because of the double engine government with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and a BJP government in the state. Goa has witnessed development as never before in that period," according to state BJP president Sadanand Shet Tanavade.
In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP ended up with just 13 seats, despite winning 32.48 per cent vote share, more than four per cent of the share cornered by the Congress which won 17 seats.
This time round though, controversy-ridden tenures led by Sawant and Parrikar -- the latter ruled from a hospital bed before he died in March 2019, may impact the party's fortunes.
The absence of Parrikar, who shepherded and strategised the party's rise to power, high profile internal rebellions led by Parrikar's own son Utpal and ex Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar as well as the party's inability to seal a pre-poll alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party -- BJP and the MGP share the traditional Hindu conservative vote base -- may also cost the ruling party dear.
The Congress on the other hand, which had lost both face and MLAs -- 15 of the party's legislators quit since 2017 out of which 13 joined the BJP -- has fielded 80 per cent new faces in the elections.
The party has departed from its almost ritualistic tradition of allotting tickets to established heavy weights and habitual defectors. In order to regain popular traction, the opposition party also put up a 'grand' show of its candidates pledging before gods and on affidavits over not switching parties in their term as MLAs, if they are elected.
"In this election, the old Congress is actually the BJP, TMC and the AAP. They have taken away all the old Congress leaders who have destroyed the party. The new Congress going to the elections has 80 percent new faces. We are confident of winning a majority this time," state Congress president Girish Chodankar said.
Both parties initially appeared to be in shock at the initial volleys served by the AAP and the TMC, who had aggressively heckled the primary players, with promises of freebies, jobs. The impact of the freebies promised by the two new players have also rubbed off on the two major players.
The Congress has now promised Rs 6,000 to each economically backward family, while the BJP has promised three free LPG gas cylinders.
A new political party led by Manoj Parab, a 37-year-old geology post graduate, Revolutionary Goans, is also contesting 38 assembly seats. The party has made nativist issues as a key poll plank and over the last five years, the party has drawn the attention of young voters cutting across religious lines.
With unemployment emerging as one of the key concerns ahead of the elections, the party could wean away chunks of votes from the traditional voter base of mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP.
According to Chief Electoral Officer Kunal, nearly 20,000 para-military personnel have been requisitioned patrolling and maintaining security at the nearly polling 1,600 polling stations in the state.