PANAJI: As Goa votes Saturday, vying for the attention of over a million voters in 40 constituencies will be 215 candidates. The real faceoff will be between the ruling Congress-NCP alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-MGP combine.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, battling a strong anti-incumbency wave, are contesting 33 and seven seats respectively. The BJP and the Maharashtrwadi Gomantak Party are fighting for 28 and eight seats, and supporting key independents in the remaining four constituencies.
The Trinamool Congress, a new entrant in Goa's political canvas, has fielded 20 candidates. Other parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Samajwadi Janata Party, the Republican Party of India and the Janata Dal-Secular are also contesting, albeit in a small way.
Among the regional parties are the Goa Vikas Party and the United Goan Democratic party (UGDP), which have floated a loosely strung alliance.
Some civil society groups have bandied together under the banner of Zagrut Goenkarancho Ekovtt (ZGE) and fielded 10 candidates, which includes a Catholic priest, whose unique campaigning style created waves in the state, where nearly a quarter of the population is Christian.
The 215 candidates include nine women and 74 independents.
Allegations of corruption and malgovernance against the government, including against Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, and the Congress decision to promote dynasty politics in Goa by allotting 12 out of 33 tickets to the kin of legislators have been the main poll plank of the BJP.
The Congress-NCP alliance has been harping on stability as its USP, with Kamat achieving the rare distinction of being the first to last for full five years since Goa attained statehood in 1987.
The BJP has seven Christians nominees among its 28 candidates, ostensibly to counter its pro-Hindutva image.
Two key regional issues which have remained imprinted on the public consciousness here over the last few years have been on the medium of instruction (MoI) and the Regional (development) Plan 2021.
The MoI issue involves an intense debate about whether the government should give grants to schools instructing in English. The BJP insists that children should be taught in their mother tongue.
The second deals with the nature of a futuristic land use policy document called the Goa Regional Plan 2021.
The Congress has been accused by the opposition and civil society of selling out to the land mafia and virtually opening up Goa to the ravages of high density real estate development.
The manifestoes of the two principal parties are nearly identical vis-a-vis civic and social issues. Both have promised a quick solution to Goa's garbage woes while both have also promised to safeguard the interests of the 'legal' mining industry.
While the BJP has shown its populist side by promising to reduce petrol prices by Rs.11, the Congress has promised to play Santa Claus to the economically backward classes by promising free electricity and water with a limited usage rider.
Both the parties flew in their top leaders - BJP president Nitin Gadkari camped in Goa for four days while the Congress brought down its president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The biggest flareup occurred in the Christian-dominated constituency of Velim, in South Goa, 50 km from here, where plainclothes policemen were beaten up by angry residents for turning up at a priest's residence for electoral assessment last week.
The same priest, Romano Gonsalves, had been raided by the poll authorities after receiving a tip-off that money was being distributed by him.
Twelve companies of paramilitary personnel have been posted in Goa for the polls, which mark the end of phased polling in five states across India.