Ahead of the crucial elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has named the Bhandari community's Amit Palekar as its Chief Ministerial candidate. Meanwhile, BJP has also tried to give adequate representation to the dominant Bhandari caste in the upcoming polls.
The community accounts for a significant part of Goa's population, thus playing a vital role in the state's political landscape. Let's know all about the community that holds the 'key to' winning the elections in the coastal state.
Who are Bhandaris?
Bhandari community belongs to the other backward caste (OBC) category. Its traditional occupation was toddy-tapping and distilling, farm tilling and working in orchards. Bhandaris are spread across Goa and Maharashtra’s Konkan belt, along with the parts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.
They form almost 30-35% of Goa’s total population.
According to Ashok Naik, president of the Gomantak Bhandari Samaj (GBS), the Bhandaris make up the majority of the OBCs as well as the Hindu population in the state.
According to the 2011 Census, Goa has a population of 14.59 lakh, with 66.08 percent of Hindus, 25.10 percent of Christians, 3.66 percent of Muslims, and the rest from other religions.
"The population of Bhandaris has never been properly surveyed. The government claims that it is around 2 lakh, however, this is incorrect. According to current estimates, the number should be about 5.29 lakh, accounting for at least 30% of the state's population," added Naik.
Political significance of Bhandari community
Political outfits in Goa have always tried to woo the Bhandari vote bank with some even advocating for reservation for the community. Furthermore, the GBS chief had said that the Bhandari Samaj would support the party that gives maximum election tickets to candidates from the community.
While the community has been represented in the state assembly, there has only been one CM from the community in Goa, Ravi Naik, who was previously with the Congress and is now with the BJP.
This time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has named Amit Palekar, a 45-year-old political debutant, as its Chief Ministerial candidate in an attempt to woo the numerically dominant Bhandaris. AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had announced Palekar as the party's CM face, saying his party was not engaging in caste politics but was "correcting" the "injustice" the Bhandari community had long suffered at the hands of Goa's major parties, who, despite their numerical strength, had never chosen a CM from the community.
Meanwhile, the BJP has attempted to give adequate representation to the dominant Bhandari caste.
The party has given seven tickets to Bhandari caste, 9 to Christians, OBCs other that Bhandaris got 4 tickets, Marathas 5, Brahmins and other general categories 4 seats, ST in 3 places while SC at places have been given a ticket.
Goa will hold the assembly elections on February 14, with the counting of votes on March 10.