Explained: Political importance of the Bhandari community in Goa polls
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has nominated a 45-year-old political rookie, Amit Palekar, as its main ministerial candidate in the February 14 elections for the Goa Assembly. A lawyer turned politician, Palekar belongs to the Bhandari community, which is Goa’s largest caste group, constituting a large percentage of its Hindu population. His selection is in line with the AAP’s previous announcement that its CM candidate for the Goa polls will be from the Bhanadari community. Declaring Palekar as the face of the AAP CM on January 19, AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said his party does not resort to caste politics but “corrects” the injustice” that the Bhandari community had long endured at the hands of the main parties in Goa. who, he added, never chose a CM from the community despite his numerical strength.
Who are the Bhandari?
The traditional occupation of the Bhandari community was toddy harvesting and distillation, tillage and orchard work. He is placed in Other Backward Class (OBC) in Goa. The community is spread across the Konkan belt of Goa and Maharashtra including parts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.
What proportion of Goa’s population do they represent?
Gomantak Bhandari Samaj (GBS) Chairman Ashok Naik said that there has been no survey of the actual population of the Bhandari community in Goa. But he disputes the figures recorded by the Goa government’s social welfare department. In a written response to a question posed to the Goa Assembly in October 2021, Social Affairs Minister Milind Naik had said that an investigation into OBCs had been carried out in 2014 by the Goa State Commission for Classes arrears. “According to the survey report, the population of the OBC was 3,58,517, or 27% of the total population. According to this survey, the total number of Bhandari communities is 2,19,052, which constitutes 61.10% among the OBCs.
But Naik says Bhandaris not only make up the majority of OBCs, but also the majority of the state’s Hindu population.
According to the 2011 census, the population of Goa was 14.59 lakh of which 66.08% were Hindus, 25.10% were Christians, 3.66% were Muslims, and the rest belonged to other religions.
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“There has never been a proper survey of the population of Bhandaris. The government says it is around 2 lakh which is not correct. Estimates suggest that at present the number should be around 5.29 lakh, which would be at least 30% of the state’s population,” Naik said.
Has the Bhandari Samaj been neglected by political parties?
Political parties in Goa have always tried to woo the numerically strong Bhandaris, with some seeking to defend the reserve for the community. The GBS leader had earlier said that the Bhandari Samaj would support the party that gives the maximum number of election tickets to candidates from the community.
While the community has been represented in the State Assembly, there has so far only been one CM in Goa from the community, Ravi Naik, who was previously with the Congress and is now with the BJP. The outgoing Assembly of 40 member states has four MPs from the Bhandari community.
Ashok Naik said that with education and inclusion in the OBC category, Bhandaris has progressed in post-liberation Goa with many community members excelling in higher education and assuming important positions. “But while 5% of our community may be rich, 95% is still poor. They are still struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
Will the declaration of a CM candidate from the Bhandari community give the AAP an advantage in the polls at several corners of Goa?
“For the first time in 60 years, a party came to us and said they would give us a CM from the Bhandari community. Whether they win or not is another story, but they took our pulse and recognized that our community must receive its due,” Ashok Naik said. St Cruz constituency is not high, from where Palekar will make his electoral debut.
Political observers say that even if the GBS supports Palekar, the community as a whole may not be on the same page. They say that for the past 20 years, the Bhandari community has been closely associated with the BJP.
However, votes traditionally sought on the basis of religion or caste have not gone down well with the electorate in Goa. Journalist and senior author Sandesh Prabhudesai, whose book Gajab Politics of Ajeeb Goa was recently published, said that the first case of courting Goa voters on the basis of caste took place in 1972, but he had turned against him. “At that time, the literacy rate was around 30%. (Former CM) Bhausaheb (Dayanand) Bandodkar had faced the first rebellion,” Prabhudesai said. He said the Gomantak daily was then very influential in Goa and was the only Marathi language newspaper reaching Hindu homes at the time. KB Naik, a Bhandari leader, with the support of the daily, had tried to make electoral gains by playing the caste card, he said. “In the previous two elections, Bhausaheb’s Maharashtrawadi Gomantak party won 16 seats, but in the 1972 elections it won 18. Since then, caste politics has not worked in Goa,” he said. -he adds.
Academicians say that candidates winning in various constituencies in Goa generally represent their demographics. For example, a Christian candidate may win in a constituency with a large Christian population or a Bhandari candidate may win in seats with a higher percentage of Bhandari voters, but votes would not be sought on those grounds, they say.