A partial demolition of a church in Delhi, located more than 2,000 km from Goa, has taken the centre-stage in the early campaigning phase in the coastal state, which is headed for Assembly polls in early 2022.
The demolition of the Syro-Malabar church located in South Delhi’s Chattarpur area on July 5 has triggered a war of words between the Goa Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, both of whom have their eyes trained on the significant Christian population in the state, which accounts for more than 25 per cent of the population.
While the AAP has insisted that the demolition was carried out by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), a Central government agency controlled by the ruling BJP, the Congress in Goa has accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s party of not doing enough to stop the demolition, alleging that two AAP MLAs who are part of the DDA board did not object to the action against the church.
For both the opposition parties, the votes of the Christian community in Goa hold the key to electoral success, while the increasing inroads made by the AAP among the minority community has made the Congress increasingly insecure in recent times.
According to senior Congress spokesperson and national media panelist Trajano D’Mello, the Kejriwal-led party has “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) blood running through it” and the objective of his party is to further the BJP agenda.
“It is not surprising that AAP is a party to the demolition, because Kejriwal has RSS blood flowing in him. There is an anti-minority agenda,” D’Mello told in an interview
.Kejriwal, who was in Goa earlier this week to oversee the party’s preparations for the state Assembly polls scheduled for early 2022, however, insisted that the demolition had little to do with Delhi government’s decision-making.
“It was done by DDA, which is under the Central government. It is not under Delhi government. DDA perhaps went to the high court which gave an order after which DDA took the action. Our local MLA is with the church and we are providing the support required,” Kejriwal had said.
While the demolition of the Delhi church has taken the foreground in the face-off between the AAP and the Congress, what lurks behind the obvious slanging match is Goa’s Christian vote bank.
Traditionally, the Christian vote bank has gravitated towards the Congress in Goa, especially in the Salcete sub-district — a cluster of eight Assembly seats where Christians account for a significant vote count — and has repeatedly proven to be a headache for the BJP election machinery to overcome.
Repeated political gaffes by the Congress and its inability to prevent its MLAs from defection have, however, enabled AAP to create headway into the Christian votes in Salcete over the last few years.
While AAP failed to win a single seat in the 2017 Assembly polls, the party managed to scrape together a modest tally of votes in Salcete. In the 2020 Zilla Panchayat polls, AAP managed its first electoral victory in the Benaulim seat in Salcete.
The victory has not only emboldened the AAP in Goa, but has also added an interesting spin to the electoral calculation, especially for the BJP, which stands to gain from the split in Christian votes between the Congress and the AAP.