Falling Christian population threatens Congress’ hold on South Goa seat | Latest News India

Falling Christian population threatens Congress’ hold on South Goa seat | Latest News India

South Goa parliamentary constituency — once considered a Congress stronghold owing to its large population of Christian minorities — now stands precariously balanced ahead of the Lok Sabha polls as changing population trends combined with a polarisation of the vote could make it a tough fight for the Congress. The party this time is contesting the seat together with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as part of the INDIA bloc.

The decline of the Christian population on account of emigration has only likely accelerated over the decade since the last census was conducted.(File photo)

The seat boasted a Christian population of 46% at the time of the first election in the 1960s which together with some support from Hindus who made up 51%, made it near impossible to defeat the Congress. But today (as per the 2011 census), it has a Christian population of 36.21% while the Hindu population stands at 53.34%.

The decline of the Christian population on account of emigration has only likely accelerated over the decade since the last census was conducted.

“The Christian population does not necessarily vote as a block, especially for the state elections. But when it comes to parliamentary elections they have by and large voted for the Congress,” Sandesh Prabhudesai, journalist and author of the book Double Engine: A History of Goa Lok Sabha Elections says.

But, consistent with a trend of a declining Christian population, so is the Congress grip on the seat.

In 2019, Congress candidate Francisco Sardinha emerged victorious wresting the seat back from the Bharatiya Janata Party by a margin of a mere 9,755 votes despite increasing the Congress votes share from 40.56% to 47.47%, thus warding off a challenge from both the BJP and the AAP whose candidate secured 20,891 or 4.91% of the vote.

The Congress and the AAP are jointly fighting the elections this time round, a move that will likely prompt a consolidation of the opposition vote but might yet not prove to be enough to save the Congress whose chances of grabbing a share of the non-Christian, non-Muslim vote have further declined as since 2019 the party has continuously bled legislators to the BJP leaving the party hollow on the ground.

The Congress has lost political heavyweights in former chief ministers Ravi Naik, who switched ahead of the 2022 polls, and Digambar Kamat who switched after the 2022 polls. Both current MLAs represent seats in South Goa and claim a considerable follower base to the BJP.

Similarly, Aleixo Sequeira, who was elected on a Congress ticket, switched to the BJP in 2022 and was made a minister in the Pramod Sawant government.

Historically, the Congress or a like-minded party has won the South Goa seat in all elections except for 2004 and 2014 when the BJP won. Former Union minister Eduardo Faleiro famously represented the South Goa parliamentary constituency continuously from 1977 till 1996.

A large part of this dominance was down to the Christian community almost universally voting for either the Congress or the United Goans Party, a now-defunct regional party that championed the cause of Goa remaining a separate territory when the ruling party at the time the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party wished to merge Goa with Maharashtra shortly after Liberation.

While the MGP had a support base in the Hindu Bahujan Samaj — a constituency that has since shifted to the BJP — the UGP enjoyed support among Christians and elite Hindus, but soon lost its base to the Congress that was able to garner support from both communities.

The rise of the AAP in Goa has been at the cost of the Congress. In the 2022 state polls, AAP opened its account in Goa when it won two seats, both overwhelmingly Christian, in the 2022 assembly elections.

“The alliance with the AAP will help consolidate the opposition vote, but will not help bring in disgruntled BJP voters,” a Congress leader, who declined to be named, said adding that the party needs to win over at least 30,000 to 35,000 voters who would otherwise vote for the BJP if it hopes to retain the seat.

But who the Congress will miss is an alliance partner who will draw BJP votes to the opposition bloc.

In 2019, MGP supremo Sudin Dhavalikar, having been dismissed from the Pramod Sawant-led government, threw his weight behind the Congress candidate — contributing more than 10,000 votes to the Congress total — without which the Congress would have fallen behind the BJP.

“No party can win any election depending only on the Christian votes in any constituency in Goa. The question for the Congress is how do they win over the votes of the majority community having lost MLAs to the BJP,” Prabhudesai said.

“The Congress has never depended on only one community to win the South Goa seat. It could not have worked if they were relying only on one community. There is no doubt that while Christians vote substantially for the Congress it is also the majority community whose vote, while offering lesser support, helps to a large extent,” Adv Cleofato Almeida Coutinho, a political analyst, said.

“Much will depend on who the candidates that the respective parties field and the narrative that builds up in the run-up to the polls,” Coutinho added.

Goa has a total of 1.17 million registered voters of which 578000 are in North Goa and 593,000 are in South Goa.

The North Goa seat, on the other hand, which is dominated by Hindus in which Catholics form only 16% of the population (as per the 2011 census) has been a BJP bastion since 1999 when incumbent MP Shripad Naik won the seat for what would be the first of his five tenures as an MP. The seat is expected to be retained by the BJP and Naik has already been nominated for the seat for the sixth time.

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