Calangute (Goa): Michael Lobo, a former minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Goa, is eyeing a hat-trick of wins in Calangute, a constituency often seen as the mainstay of tourism in the coastal state, which will go to the polls on February 14.
However, unlike his previous two victories for the saffron party, this year Lobo is leading the fight for Congress, which he joined with his wife Delilah last month, saying the BJP was “not the same party anymore”.
The party changed after the death of former chief minister and one of the state’s top BJP leaders, Manohar Parrikar, in 2019, he said. “It was no longer the people’s party and even the BJP karyakartas (officials) are unhappy. The BJP ceased to be a popular party. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has remained a CM rubber stamp, following instructions from his superiors,” said Lobo, the former ports and waste management minister in the outgoing cabinet led by Sawant.
Despite switching parties and resigning from the 40-member Goa legislature, Lobo seemed confident of winning the election “by a bigger margin”.
“I consulted the people before taking this step (going to Congress). I don’t think there will be a change in attitude from voters,” he said while campaigning in his constituency.
It won’t become clear until March 10, when the votes are tallied, whether he can indeed pull off a hat-trick on the state electoral turf, but his meteoric rise from humble origins in the village of Parra to assembly and then to the cabinet has already made people take note of the 45-year-old leader.
Coming from a family of potters, Lobo entered the beach shack business in the 1990s when Calangute was transformed into a major beach destination in North Goa. The popularity of this tourist hotspot was immortalized by singer Lorna Cordeiro, whose eponymous tune remains a popular Konkani song to this day.
Today, Lobo is one of the wealthiest among 301 poll candidates with assets worth more than ₹84.39 crore. Its total assets have nearly doubled since ₹49.47 crore that it was worth in 2017, information from the affidavit submitted before the election commission revealed.
Calangute was a Congress stronghold until Lobo won the BJP seat in 2012. He beat incumbent Congressman Agnelo Fernandes by a margin of 1,869 votes after winning 9,891 votes. In the 2017 Assembly elections, Lobo increased his margin of victory to 3,825 votes despite a visible anti-BJP wave in the state. He garnered 11,136 votes against Joseph Sequeira of Congress, who received 7,311 votes.
Having won the constituency twice, Lobo is now eyeing the whole of Bardez’s taluka comprising seven constituencies. Apart from the lucrative coastal Calangute, the taluka also includes Siolim (which includes areas such as Anjuna and Vagator), Saligao and Mapusa, among others.
Bardez in North Goa and Salcete taluka with eight seats in South Goa district represent the two largest groups of assembly seats. While Salcete has traditionally been a congressional stronghold, Bardez has produced mixed results. With Lobo on board, Congress hopes to snatch Bardez, seen as crucial to forming the state government.
Unlike ruling party candidates in other parts of Goa, Lobo does not face many questions regarding job opportunities. With tourism bringing economic prosperity to this once sleepy fishing village that first attracted hippies in the 1960s and 70s to Goa, residents cashed in on the boom by renting rooms, cars, two-wheelers to tourists or venturing into other related businesses. .
The rapid urbanization of the constituency, however, has led to different problems including water scarcity, urban squalor and most recently loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Lobo is generally accepted in these regions, he has made a few political challengers along the way. Joseph Sequeira and Anthony Menezes, two local politicians who helped Lobo win his first election in 2012, have since turned against him. Sequeira, who was in Congress until Lobo joined the ruling party, has since joined the BJP and is now campaigning to defeat the former minister.
Sequeira, who has served as sarpanch in Calangute constituency for many years now, said he would overthrow Lobo.
“The kind of responses I’m getting suggest I’m going to win the election. Residents of the constituency have long been waiting for basic necessities like electricity, water and infrastructure in the form of internal roads. People in general are unhappy with the way things have gone over the past ten years and will vote for change,” Sequeira said.
Another rival, Menezes, has joined the Trinamool Congress party, which is making its debut in state polls, and hopes to hurt Lobo’s prospects.
“If Lobo is allowed to win, Calangute will become a second Taleigao,” said Pascoal Fernandes, a shack owner along the Candolim stretch. Taleigao, a once agrarian village on the outskirts of the state capital, has seen a transformation since the year 2002 after Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate was first elected to represent the constituency. Today, the village is home to multi-storey apartment complexes on once fertile fields that have given Goa a special variety of brinjal.
Damião Teles, who runs a trinket stall on Candolim beach, said Lobo’s ambition left him unimpressed. “I don’t agree with this couple policy and this circle of friends policy,” Teles said, referring to Lobo and his wife Delilah being given tickets with some of his candidates by Congress. “We have to save our sand dunes, our fields and our environment, and Lobo is responsible for a lot of the urbanization here.”