Submitted by alvin on Mon, 2017-01-23 16:12 Panaji: For a state known for its casinos, the February 4 assembly elections are shaping up like a game of poker, with more than 10 political parties in the fray and all of them holding their cards close to their chests. While the 2012 election was an obvious affair, with the two groupings -- the Congress and its then alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party; and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its then ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) -- going at each other like a freestyle wrestling tag team, in 2017, the contest has a tentative edge to it. With political leaders across the spectrum freely claiming, off the record, that a clear majority for any of the major parties seems unlikely, the need for a pre-poll coalition seemed like an obvious choice in 2017. While the late-off-the-blocks Congress appears eager to assert itself, the BJP on the other hand appears to have more faith in Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's fire-power over the MGP, which has a track-record of being a slippery ally, especially when it comes to maneuvering in tight spots. When after days of suspense, the Congress eventually announced its decision to ditch the Goa Forward regional party and go it alone and contest 37 of the 40 seats at stake, this is what Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh had to offer: "We were discussing seat-sharing but it hasn't really matured due to certain reasons." The party has entered into a strategic seat-sharing arrangement with the United Goans party led by outgoing MLA Atanasio Monserrate. While an alliance with the NCP was never on the cards, the Congress said that the proposed alliance with Goa Forward and its ambitious leader Vijai Sardesai fell through because the party's state leadership wanted to nip the Sardesai threat in the bud, especially in view of a possible fractured mandate, where every MLA would literally be worth his weight in gold. "Sardesai has a track record of engineering defections. The aim is to clip his wings rightaway and block his chances of being MLA," a senior state Congress leader told IANS on condition of anonymity. The Congress has now fielded Scheduled Tribe (ST) leader Joseph D'Silva against Sardesai, who won the 2012 elections largely thanks to the ST vote in the Fatorda constituency. Sardesai has, however, now accused the Congress of acting on the bidding of the BJP, especially Parrikar. "The Congress is the B-team of the BJP in Goa. It is a circus, with Parrikar as its ringmaster, and a toy in the hands of BJP leaders," a spurned Sardesai has said. The tale of how the BJP-MGP alliance came a cropper is also protracted. The contours of the tattered confidence in the two alliance partners however became obvious when two MGP ministers were sacked by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar last month. "They were working against coalition dharma and were even planning to field candidates against the BJP in these elections. We were forced to act against them," Parsekar had maintained. Over the last two decades, the MGP has been part of coalition governments headed by both the BJP as well as the Congress, switching sides as many as thrice. While the MGP has always been the junior partner in these coalitions, the party which gave Goa its first Chief Minister, is now keen on a bigger role, something its leadership hopes to ascend to, especially with a projected fractured mandate. The MGP is contesting 26 assembly seats, the most it has contested in recent times. "We are going in to win. We want Sudin Dhavalikar (former PWD minister in the BJP-led coalition government) to be the next Chief Minister," MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar told IANS. While the MGP is in coalition with the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), which is mentored by former RSS Goa chief Subhash Velingkar, and the Shiv Sena, it has kept its options open vis-a-vis a post-poll alliance with the BJP. "I cannot tell you that now... Sometimes in politics you have to adopt Chanakyaniti," Dhavalikar has said, keeping his cards close to his chest. Among other major political parties, the AAP is going into the polls alone contesting all 40 seats.