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Unease grows as Congress delays announcing candidates for Goa’s 2 Lok Sabha seats

Panaji: Delay by the Congress Central Election Committee (CEC) to formally announce the party’s candidates for Goa’s two parliamentary seats after having seemingly finalised the names in a meeting last week has sparked restlessness among the party’s workers and their alliance partners.

The Congress CEC, it seems, had finalised Sunil Kauthankar, a Congress leader since his National Students’ Union of India days, for north Goa, and Viriato Fernandes for south Goa. (Reprsentative photo.)

On Sunday evening, a group of supporters gathered at the residence of Viriato Fernandes, a former Navy captain and Congress leader, who as a Congress candidate lost narrowly to the BJP’s Mauvin Godinho in the 2022 Goa Assembly polls, demanding that Fernandes be given the ticket.

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“We have come to wish him on the occasion of Easter as well as to express our support. He is a leader who has taken up issues for Goa including the coal handling issue, the fishermen’s issues, the issue of double tracking and has been seen wherever people’s protests are there. At a time when we need a strong voice to raise Goa’s issues in parliament we believe Capt Viriato is the right man,” Olencio Simoes, a local Congress leader said.

“We had heard that the party high command has finalised the name of Viriato Fernandes for the south Goa parliamentary constituency. We trust that the Congress high command will do the right thing and follow through with their decision,” Custodio D’Souza, a fishermen association leader, said.

Possible canditate names for Goa’s two seats were discussed at the Congress CEC meeting held in New Delhi on Wednesday. State Congress president Amit Patkar who attended the meeting returned to the state on Thursday, saying the names had been finalised and the announcement would be made the following day.

Congress party leaders, familiar with the discussions at the meeting but who asked not to be named,said the CEC had finalised Sunil Kauthankar, a Congress leader since his days in the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), for north Goa and Viriato Fernandes for south Goa.

However, when the CEC released a list on the night of March 27 the names of the candidates for the two Goa seats were not declared.

The party’s local leadership then said that the names of would be finalised by Sunday (March 31) but that deadline too went without any announcement, sparking speculation that backroom manoeuvres were underway to change the decision taken at the CEC meeting.

Speculation over possible candidates have party focused on former state Congress president Girish Chodankar, who is said to be an aspirant for the south Goa ticket. It is widely believed that Chodankar wants to contest the election from south Goa having unsuccessfully contested the 2019 parliamentary election from north Goa.

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As the campaign by rival camps spilled onto social media, Chodankar accused the BJP of trying to scuttle his chances for the ticket and accused them of running a smear campaign against him.

“The BJP is all too eager to project the Congress as a divided house. They are spending lakhs of rupees to run a smear campaign and malign my image. The day the candidate is announced we will be one Goa Congress that is set to defeat the BJP,” Chodankar said.

Besides Viriato and Chodankar, sitting MP Francisco Sardinha, and Congress leader Elvis Gomes, too are said to be in the reckoning for the south Goa ticket.

AAP MLA Venzy Viegas, who has begun a “campaign” on behalf of the INDIA alliance while expressing his displeasure over the delay in the announcement of the candidate, said the candidate needed to be one who can secure votes from both communities in the seat that has a sizeable minority population.

“Yes there has been a delay, but as a partner in the INDIA alliance we have little say in who will be the candidate. We need a candidate who can win votes from the areas like Ponda, Sanguem, Canacona (Hindu majority). Hopefully we will have a candidate soon,” Viegas said.

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