Tuesday, March 31, 2020
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Goa is almost Congress Mukt, but there is a problem

How do such inductions fit in with BJP's slogans of the nation first? How is BJP then a party with a difference? How can BJP now provide shelter to the men it despised in the past? How can BJP's core now be around Congressmen in BJP's clothing?

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Giriraj Pai Vernekar
Former OSD to Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa.

A midnight surgical strike by the Goa BJP (with blessings of the central leadership), has resulted in a massive change in Goan politics. 10 out of the remaining 15 Congress MLAs formed a splinter group, split from the Congress and have merged with BJP. This leaves Congress with a paltry 5 MLAs in a house of 40, whereas BJP’s strength goes up to 27. The allies of BJP, if added to this tally would make NDA in Goa having a strength of 33 in a house of 40 in Goa (assuming the allies continue to stay on board, as claimed by them till now)

This is a far cry from what the last assembly election results threw up. BJP had crashed from 21 to 13 MLAs. Congress had 17 MLAs. Eventually, BJP cobbled up a majority with un-like-minded allies, while the Congress twiddled thumbs over who would be the CM.

On the face of it, 27/40 for BJP and 33/40 for NDA sounds brilliant. BJP has a brute absolute strength in the state of Goa now, which was considered dicey especially after the demise of Goa’s tallest leader Shri Manohar Parrikar. BJP now has, in fact, bettered his Parrika’s own best figure of 21. But are figures all that matter?

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There has been a marked shift in BJP’s strategy, even more, apparent after Parrikar’s demise.

Firstly, BJP had begun limited induction of Congress MLAs even before the 2017 Assembly elections, when Parrikar was still the de facto head of BJP Goa. This had ruffled some feathers at that time, but the core of BJP was still consisting of homegrown “Sangh” oriented leaders.

With the latest wholesale deal of 10 MLAs though, there is a completely different colour to the Goan BJP. Out of 27 MLAs, almost 20 of them are of Congress gotra (i.e. having some ties with Congress and some point of time). The current CM Pramod Sawant could be the only one considered to be an RSS linked MLA remaining in Goa. This fact begs the question: Goa is Congress mukt, but BJP has become the new Congress?

The 10 MLAs have also shifted the religious balance of the Goa BJP. Now there are almost 15 Christian MLAs in the BJP.  In Goa, the Church still calls the shots (covertly and sometimes overtly) as far as elections are concerned. Parrikar’s magic 21 figure was partly because the Church decided to back him as against the corrupt Congress. The fall to 13 was also partly ascribed to the Church’s influence. In fact, videos show that the Church campaigned for 1 of the 10 MLAs who have been inducted into the BJP now. How will this group of 15 behave?

Perhaps the worst part of this jamboree is the fact that some of the MLAs imported into BJP have extremely tainted pasts. Take for example Taleigao strongman Atanasio Babush Monseratte. He has changed more parties than a person changes clothes in a day. He has allegedly been involved in cases of sex rackets, smuggling, attacking a police station, and most recently raping a minor. He was in the BJP a long time back and was the cause of that BJP Government. Most recently, he fought on the seat vacated by Parrikar, where the present CM openly rebuked him for his lack of “character”. BJP Mahila morcha of Goa had said they would not be safe if he was elected to Parrikar’s seat. Now he is tipped to be a minister.

Next in line is the Congress loyalist Chandarakant Babu Kavlekar. He has been a long-time Congressman and was in the eye of a Matka betting racket until recently. He was the leader of the opposition in Goa and has now joined the BJP. He too is tipped to be a minister.

How do such inductions fit in with BJP’s slogans of the nation first? How is BJP then a party with a difference? How can BJP now provide shelter to the men it despised in the past? How can BJP’s core now be around Congressmen in BJP’s clothing? How can party workers who till yesterday worked tooth and nail against these elements, now follow their diktat? How can BJP candidates groomed as opponents to these MLAs, now fade into the background?

The next major departure from the Parrikar style of politics was illustrated by his son Utpal Parrikar. He spoke about “trust”. This can be illustrated by the scenario post the 2012 Goa elections. BJP and local party MGP entered the elections with a prepoll alliance. BJP unexpectedly won a simple majority by itself. Yet it chose to hang on with their alliance partner, as per the discussions held pre-election. Parrikar publicly stated that his principles did not allow him to abandon an ally.

The current importing of 10 MLAs into BJP though is seen as an attempt to do exactly that: abandon an ally. The BJP was 17 and had the support of 3 from the GFP, and 3 Independents. Now with 10 from the Congress, it doesn’t need anyone else, and as news is flowing, it’s likely that the ministerial posts given to allies will be now shared among the new BJP MLAs.

While this may appear as a backstabbing, there is also a back-story to this. It is rumoured that the straw which broke the camel’s back, as far as the BJP-GFP odd marriage goes, was the fact that GFP supremo Vijai Sardesai, went back on his word to drop one of his ministers, to allow his friend and BJP MLA Michael Lobo, to get a ministerial berth. This is rumoured to have angered Lobo, who is seen as the main shepherd leading these 10 Congress MLAs into BJP, trying to teach Vijai a lesson.

Be that as is it may, the situation looks bleak for all concerned in Goa:

  1. BJP’s core is now the Congress. One wonders how far BJP’s ideology will be carried forward by this current set of MLAs. The worst outcome of this could be the possible ganging up of the Congress Gotra MLAs and demanding a leadership change, with a CM from within them. They have the numbers to form a pressure group amongst themselves, and some of them are extremely ambitious, wily and cunning operators.
  2. The Congress has been dealt a life-threatening blow. Down to 5, it has virtually nothing it can do in Goa. Some of the 5 remaining MLAs were also rumoured to be on their way to BJP, and they may be left wondering now why they were left behind by BJP.
  3. The allies of BJP are as of now being diplomatic. While clearly, the move is to cut them to size, they cannot openly revolt or back-out due to the strength of BJP in the centre and in Goa. Any animosity would likely lead to a complete stop of all projects and works undertaken in the constituencies.
  4. Finally, the votes of Goa are in for real confusion. Those who voted for BJP the party got Congress in BJP’s clothing. Those who voted for the 10 Congress MLAs (more if you consider earlier defections), have now got a BJP MLA instead. The BJP voters have to decide if this is the BJP they wanted, and the Congress voters have to decide, is Congress the right opponent to defeat the BJP. There is no other party in Goa which can claim to have a pan Goa presence, which can enable them to come even close to forming a Government

Goa is almost fully Congress mukt, but at what cost?

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Giriraj Pai Vernekar
Former OSD to Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa.

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