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A Game of Oaths: Why is everybody swearing prematurely in Goa Polls 2022?

by | Feb 6, 2022 | Elections 2022, Goa 2022

With loyalty at a premium in Goa, many political parties including the Congress and AAP are making their candidates sign an affidavit pledging loyalty to the party.
Rahul Gandhi in Goa

As American Lawyer Jay Sekulow once said, “The Pledge clearly acknowledges the fact that our freedoms in this country come from God, not government.” Who would know that better than the Indian National Congress Congress in Goa as it invokes everything from the Constitution of India to divine intervention in the runup to the Goa Assembly Polls 2022.

Valentine Day Pledges of a Different Kind

As Goa goes to the polls on Valentine’s Day (February 14th), there’s going to be no love lost between voters and political parties, leave aside trust. Political parties including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are making their candidates sign an affidavit pledging loyalty to the party and that they shall not leave the party after getting elected. The Congress has gone a step further making its prepoll alliance partner Goa Forward Party sign a pledge that they will not leave the coalition whether or not the alliance fails to get the requisite majority.

Even the second term non-starters Aam Aadmi Party that had been attacking the Congress for selling its MLAs to BJP and even went on to call it, ‘Congress Janata Party’ has made its candidates sign affidavits and swear their loyalty to the party, whatever the post-poll results are.

So why do some Goan Assembly Candidates have to swear loyalty by signing affidavits in televised events, record loyalty pledges and video statements on social media and instant messengers?

  The Prequel to Pledges

Rewind to 2017. In the current Legislative Assembly over 14 MLAs have left the Congress as well as the regional Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to join the BJP over the past five years. Of these, 10 MLAs from the Congress and 2 MLAs from the MGP went ahead to merge a two-thirds majority of their Legislative Parties with the BJP.

In a bizarre twisted tale, the majority of MLAs of the Congress merged India’s second-largest political party, the Congress, with the BJP, India’s largest party. While the TMC and AAP were able to mock at the situation, calling the BJOP and the Congress the same, there lies a deeper problem.  At the root of the problem is the existence of powerful constituency-based politicians, weak and helpless political parties at the mercy of these politicians and politician-besotted voters who would support individual politicians whatever their affiliations.

It was all fine till the BJP stole the people’s mandate in 2017. In Assembly Elections 2017, despite emerging as the single largest party, the Congress was denied the invitation to form the government by a partisan Governor, late Smt Mridula Sinha. The RSS veteran Governor instead gave the BJP the chance to form the government even as a divided Congress surrendered its advantage to the BJP. The ruling BJP then went on to poach Goa Forward Party MLAs who until the elections were working in tandem with the Congress.

The Goan voters were left aghast, a feeling that newbies AAP, Trinamool Congress and regional parties like Revolutionary Goans Party and Goa Swabhiman Party now want to exploit. However, they have failed to exploit the sentiment as secular Goan voters find more in common with the Congress than any other party. No wonder then that every constituency in Goa has anywhere between 2500 to 5000+ traditional Congress supporters who want their chosen party to win.

But – after earning their trust and how.

Coconut, Cross, Chadar and Constitution – Pledges galore

Goa made the Congress think and do the impossible. A sworn atheist like P Chidambaram, who is also the Senior Election Observer – led all the 37 Congress Assembly Candidates to the Mahalaxmi Temple in Panaji to swear on coconut, the Fulancho Khuris (the Miraculous Cross of Flowers) in Bambolim to swear by the Cross and at Hamza Shah Dargah by a Chaadar in Betim – that they will not defect after elections to any other party.

For an average Goan, swearing by the cross (if you are a Catholic) or coconut (if you are a Christian) is still a revered practice. In a state notorious for late-night defections from Municipalities to State Assembly, divinity seems to be the only thing that was left for the Congress to reinforce people’s trust in them. For the rest of the country watching in cynicism, a weak Congress making its candidates and alliance partner too sign pledges of loyalty on affidavits and even reading out a constitutional pledge in front of Rahul Gandhi a couple of days ago might seem unbelievable. However, viral videos of these events seem to have set a new tone for this election season.

But then it isn’t the beleaguered Congress alone that has demanded these loyalty pledges.  The AAP candidates too swore pledges earlier with party supremo Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal’s ‘us or BJP’ rhetoric may just backfire with an electorate that is simmering for having been robbed of its anti-incumbency mandate of 2017 by the BJP.

With the BJP scoffing at such pledge to loyalty and the TMC poaching this election season, it remains to be seen whether promises made on Valentine’s Day by the Congress or the AAP will be kept in carnivalesque Goa.  This election in this tiny coastal state will be an acid test for democracy.

Ajay Thakur
Ajay Thakur
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Ajay Thakur is a South-Asia based Communication Consultant and Political Communicator.