By Frederick Noronha
Panaji (Goa) : Goa's weekend elections, now awaiting results to emerge on June 5, has been among the most-bitterly fought since first post-colonial elections here in 1963. Much of that polarisation got reflected in the media.
While mainstream newspapers took the unprecedented step of selling news-space and entire quarter-pages-without a hint that this was paid advertising-to political parties, another battle for the hearts and minds of voters was fought in cyberspace.
In the advert columns, politicians, political parties and their proxies kept on embarrassing each other by pointing to past alliances among current-day enemies, changing stances and even the personal foilibies of contesting candidates.
BJP, fighting a bitter battle to dislodge Congress from power, promised Goa "a dream government, able leadership and stable government". It managed to heighten fears over Congress "corruption" and also managed a well-strategise campaign over the "takeover" of Goa's land.
On the other hand, an anti-BJP citizens' group called the Lok Shakti, linked to former student leader-turned-businessman Datta Naik and cardiologist Francisco Colaco, came out with huge advertisements, showing Goa ex-CM and Panaji candidate Manohar Parrikar (BJP) in the uniform of a RSS-member, holding a bamboo 'lathi' (cane) in his hands, clicked even while Parrikar was chief minister.
"Manohar Parrikar has all the trappings of a dictator," said the full-page advert, targeting the BJP leader, in a state with nearly one-third minority population and a complex caste-class make-up.
Another former student leader of the 'seventies, Aires Rodrigues, a bitter critic of the BJP till recently who announced his decision to back that party, meanwhile released half-page newspaper adverts targeting Parrikar's only rival in the Panaji seat, Dinar Tarkar.
Taking a direct hit at an opponent, another independent candidate from Loutolim constituency gave an advert saying, "time to reject gamblers, my dear voters".
Goa is the only state in India, which has legalised "offshore" casino gambling, and some politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats are known to frequent the floating vessel lying just off Panaji.
Some local politicians paid musicians and local theatre personalities to canvas for them. Religious leaders, across the divide, play politics in Goa too.
Congress sought to embarrass the BJP by reviving images of the Gujarat anti-Muslim violence, and said the BJP was "fooling" the citizen by promising upto 70% saving in bus-fares, for regular travellers.
A network of Goan expat professionals took a strong stance in favour of BJP's Manohar Parrikar, praising him as Goa's only hope. In response, another group of "resident Goan professionals" identifying themselves by name hit out against the "unsolicited advice of these individuals whose only link to Goa is through e-mails and the Internet."
Video channels, some set up with government assistance during the BJP regime in Goa, continued to be polarised, supporting either the BJP or Congress. Websites like goavotes.info or the unsigned journalist-crafted blog, penpricks.blogspot.com also targeted politicians and media functioning.
This bitter campaign threw up issues of another sort here. Journalists, cutting across newspaper loyalties, were critical of newspaper selling news-space to politicians for a price, and mostly not even giving a clue that what was being published was a paid advertisement.
In addition, the question of whether the surrogate advertising by politicians "supporters" or even the payments for "news" spots in newspapers-would be accounted for by politicians as part of their electoral expenses.
Results to Goa's 40-seat assembly are due on June 5 (Tuesday). The main contestants are the controversy-hit incumbent Congress (I) and the BJP, which is handicapped by it not being in power at New Delhi, unlike the 2002 occasion when that was the situation.
Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is in alliance with the Congress (I), while regional parties and independents could play big role-as spoilers or kingmakers in deciding the election results.
Beyond the 'national party' labels, most of the battle are being fought over local issues, with caste and community concerns also making it to the fore in a hidden but influential manner.