Another government in Goa

Print edition : July 01, 2005

Chief Minister Pratapsinh Rane. - V. SUDERSHAN

Three months of President's Rule ends in the State as victory in the June byelections helps the Congress secure a simple majority in the Assembly and form the government.

THE Congress-led combine's victory in four seats in the byelections held in June ended another round of political uncertainty in Goa. It facilitated the formation of a Congress government and ended three months of President's Rule when the Assembly was placed under suspended animation. The Congress' triumph also dealt a blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) hopes to return to power.

By winning three of the five seats that went to the polls and helping its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), win one, the Congress mustered 21 seats and gained a simple majority in the 40-member Assembly. The party now has 18 seats in the Assembly, and its allies, the NCP and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), two and one each. The BJP has 17, and the United Goan Democratic Party (UGDP) one. One legislator was disqualified.

On June 6, Pratapsinh Rane, who was "unanimously elected" Congress Legislative Party leader the day before, was sworn in Chief Minister. Rane, who assumed the post for the seventh time, told Frontline that this time round he would "have to give careful consideration" to the job in hand. He mentioned the completion of unfinished projects, especially in the education, irrigation and civil sectors, and the creation of a special economic zone as his priorities. "We have to deliver the goods," he said.

However, Rane's biggest challenge, as he tries to stay in power for the two years left before the Assembly's present tenure expires, will be to keep the power struggles in the Congress under control. Congress aspirants for the post of Chief Minister, especially Ravi Naik and Luizinho Faleirio, are silent for the time being. But it is to be seen how long they will remain so. Moreover, Rane will have to ensure that the new defectors to the Congress and the party's latest ally, the NCP, do not break ranks. All the defectors except NCP legislator Micky Pacheco were given Cabinet berths. NCP leader Wilfred de Souza was made Deputy Chief Minister. But Pacheco's non-inclusion created trouble for the less-than-one-week-old government when, on June 11, NCP president Sharad Pawar accused the Congress of "breach of promise" made on the eve of the elections.

Ironically, the mandate may be seen as favouring defectors and party-hoppers since four of the five winners in the byelections belong to this category. And it was their resignations from the BJP that resulted in the fall of the Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government and led to the byelections. Digambar Kamat, senior BJP leader and Number Two in the Parrikar government, resigned his BJP membership in February and won the Margao seat contesting on the Congress ticket. Babush Monserrate, who won on the UGDP ticket in the 2002 Assembly elections and then defected to the BJP only to quit it early this year, won on the Congress ticket from Taleigao. Pandurang Madkaikar, who won on the MGP ticket in 2002 but defected to the BJP after the elections and deserted it early this year, won as the Congress candidate from Cumbarjua. Pacheco, who won as a UGDP candidate in 2002, later joined the BJP and left it in January, won on the NCP ticket from Benaulim. However, another defector - Isiodore Fernandes, who switched loyalties from the Congress to the BJP in 2004 and then returned to the Congress in eight months and caused two byelections in less than a year - lost by 888 votes from Poinguinim.

According to Parrikar, the BJP lost three of the four seats primarily because the party was traditionally weak in them. He said: "These were seats from where the legislator had come to us. But mid-way they bolted. We did not have the time to groom our own candidates."

PARRIKAR first came to power in October 2000 after the BJP withdrew support to the government run by a Congress splinter group led by Francisco Sardinha. Parikkar resigned in February 2002 and called fresh elections. In the May 2002 Assembly elections, the BJP gained one seat more than the Congress, which held 16. But the BJP won the support of five legislators - two each from the MGP and the UGDP, and one independent - and formed the government. All the five legislators were accommodated in the Parrikar Cabinet.

But four of the five proved troublesome, the exception being Matanhy Saldanha of the UGDP. In January, two days after the former UGDP legislator Monserrate was stripped of his Town and Country Planning portfolio, he and three others - Pacheco, Fernandes and Madkaikar - resigned as legislators. At the time of resignation all of them were members of the BJP. Later, MGP leader Ramakrishna Dhavlikar and independent Filipe Neri Rodrigues resigned from the Parrikar Cabinet and withdrew support to the government. The MGP and the UGDP submitted letters to Governor S.C. Jamir withdrawing support to the BJP government and extending it to the Congress. While the BJP's strength in the Assembly came down to 17, the Congress' rose to 19.

In February, voting on the confidence motion moved by Parrikar was engulfed in pandemonium after Speaker Vishwas Satarkar had Rodrigues removed from the House. Although Satarkar insisted that the motion had been passed, the Governor dismissed the BJP government. Jamir invited the United Legislature Party of Goa, a coalition the Congress formed with the MGP and the UGDP, to form the next government. This government headed by Rane was given time until March 4 to prove its majority. (Later, the Speaker disqualified Rodrigues on the basis of a petition filed by the BJP under the anti-defection law. The party claimed that Rodrigues joined the BJP in 2002. But police investigations revealed that the documents based on which Rodrigues was disqualified were forged.)

With both the Congress and the BJP (in February Digambar Kamat defected to the Congress) banking on 18 members each, the stakes were high. And Rane was able to prove his majority only because an Opposition legislator was barred from voting and the pro tem Speaker used his casting vote. Amid high drama in the State, the Union Cabinet took up the Goa issue suo motu, without waiting for a recommendation from the Governor, imposed President's Rule and placed the Assembly under suspended animation.

The byelections may have had the Centre revoke President's Rule but defections could occur again. Rane told Frontline that it was up to the Centre to amend the anti-defection laws. If an elected representative leaves or resigns from the party on whose ticket he or she was elected, then he or she should be debarred from seeking re-election until the tenure of the House expires, he said. But that could be unconstitutional and until some effective measures are put in place defectors will function like, in the words of Faleiro, "wagons which can be detached and hooked from one train to another". Parrikar said: "After all it's a number game and any political party will take advantage of them."

GIVEN its relatively small Assembly strength and history of fractured mandates, Goa has witnessed several periods of political instability. Since achieving statehood in 1987, it has had 17 Chief Ministers, with one - Churchill Alemao - ruling for 17 days. In contrast, the pre-statehood days saw the MGP and later the Congress dominating Goan politics. While the MGP ruled Goa for almost 17 years since 1963, the Congress rose to power in the early 1980s. But since 1987, Goa has been in the news for frequent change of governments and defections. This trend, observers say, is largely owing to the infighting in the Congress and the BJP's successful attempts to engineer defections of Opposition legislators. Meanwhile, the electorate, especially during the past few years, became communally polarised between the minority Roman Catholic and the majority Hindu communities.

Parrikar denied that the communal polarisation of the electorate was the result of the Sangh Parivar's work. He said: "Over the past 25 years the minorities have generally voted for the Congress. This is one reason why the Goan politician does not bother about the voter. Analyses have shown that 27 to 28 per cent of the electorate vote for the Congress. It is also known that a candidate who manages to get 38 per cent of the votes wins an Assembly seat in Goa. This is what helps the Congress, not the BJP. Nowhere in the world does the majority vote en bloc."

But the Congress holds the BJP responsible for the communal polarisation. Faleiro, two-time Chief Minister and former Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president, said: "The BJP did everything possible to polarise voters. Parrikar's was an autocratic, despotic and fascist government, which tried to terrorise the minorities. Attacks on the Church, on commercial establishments run by Congress workers, and on masjids showed the government's slant. The government's work was detrimental to Goa's posterity. Goa's heritage is its communal harmony and religious amity." Rane said the BJP did polarise the electorate "to some extent", but the outcome of the recent zilla panchayat elections "hadn't really shown that they had succeeded".

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