Numbers game

The BJP moved stealthily to claim Goa, though it won just 13 seats. The voters seem bewildered as political manoeuvrings have brought back to power the BJP, which they had rejected.

Published : Mar 29, 2017 12:30 IST

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar seen standing with MLAs of the BJP, Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party during the floor test in the Assembly on March 16 to support the claim of the BJP and its post-election allies of having secured a majority.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar seen standing with MLAs of the BJP, Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party during the floor test in the Assembly on March 16 to support the claim of the BJP and its post-election allies of having secured a majority.

WITHIN hours of the election results being declared, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staked its claim to form the government in Goa. It won just 13 seats, whereas the Congress won 17. But while the Congress fumbled in forming alliances with the smaller parties and independent legislators and waited for its high command to issue orders, the BJP moved stealthily and swiftly, cut deals with those who would tip the scales, and presented a majority to the Governor before result day ended. It was a close and fierce election in India’s smallest State, which has a 40-member Legislative Assembly. In the weeks following the results, Goans have been left somewhat bewildered by the political manoeuvrings that landed them a government they clearly did not choose. The BJP has brought back the erstwhile Union Defence Minister and one-time Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to lead the State.

The election results confirmed the expectation that smaller regional parties such as Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) would play a significant role, and they did. Parrikar has rewarded them with crucial ministerial portfolios.

Political observers say the Governor should have invited the single largest party to form the government, but the Congress proved no match for the BJP. Within hours of the results coming in, senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari flew into Goa and forged alliances with Vijai Sardesai’s Goa Forward, the MGP and independent legislators, completely disregarding the mandate.

Foolish game

It also went in the BJP’s favour that the Congress had played a foolish game with Sardesai during the nomination process. In an informal arrangement, the Congress had agreed not to field candidates in the four constituencies where Goa Forward had fielded its candidates. However, on the last day of the nominations, the Congress fielded candidates in three of these seats. The Congress did this to Goa Forward in 2012 as well, and Sardesai was in no mood to entertain the “back stabbers”, as he calls the party. Unsurprisingly, when the BJP reached out to Sardesai, he went with it happily. Goa Forward’s “only” condition was that Parrikar should return as the Chief Minister. The MGP has anyway traditionally allied with the BJP. Its three seats allowed the BJP to stake its claim to form the government. “We have always backed the BJP. It would not have been different in this election,” a party member said.

Parrikar won the trust vote in the Assembly with 22 legislators voting for him, one more than the number required for a majority.

The Congress attempted to stop Parrikar’s swearing-in by moving the Supreme Court against the Governor’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government. The apex court shot it down saying that Governor Mridula Sinha was within her jurisdiction. A bit of drama ensued when Vishwajit Rane, MLA and son of former Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane, went missing on the day of the trust vote. He subsequently announced his decision to quit the Congress, which he said was a poorly run party. Rane was a contender for chief ministership.

A few days after he won the confidence motion, Parrikar began to make appointments. He compensated his allies well. The first list named Sardesai Town and Country Planning Minister, a much coveted post. Goa Forward MLAs Jayesh Salgaoncar and Vinod Paliecar got Housing and Water Resources respectively. Two independent MLAs, Rohan Khaunte and Govind Gawade, got Revenue and Art and Culture.

Senior BJP leaders in Goa told Frontline that while the coalition partners deserved important portfolios, accommodating them would come at a cost: senior BJP MLAs expecting ministerial berths would be left frustrated. Parrikar, therefore, will need to play this hand carefully. Fortunately for him, the BJP MLA Pramod Sawant won the election for the post of Speaker with a 20-15 vote. A sign, perhaps, that the House has some faith in the new government.

Meanwhile, Parrikar himself will have to contest a byelection to become a member of the Assembly. There are reports that he will contest from Panjim, and Sidharth Kuncalienker will be asked to vacate the seat. The colourful Atanasio Monserrate of the United Goa Party, who lost by 900 votes, has said he will consider joining the Congress and hopes to defeat Parrikar. Monserrate has been charged in a couple of criminal cases. He is, however, popular for the development work he has done in Panjim and Santa Cruz, the adjoining constituency.

“They didn’t vote the Congress in. The Congress had no plank in this election except to say what was wrong with the BJP. The people wanted a change. They did not want the BJP. But there were few options,” said Joseph Sequeira, a restaurant owner and Goa Forward volunteer in Margao. “I don’t think the Congress should feel they were wanted. It was really a case of no alternative or anti-incumbency. In fact, such was the disillusionment that former BJP Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar lost in his constituency.” He said that “sheer mismanagement, greed for power and infighting cost the Congress. Had they moved faster and not squabbled with Goa Forward, they would have formed the government.”

Reactions to government

Frontline met a cross section of people and sought their reactions to the new government. On the basis of the responses, it is quite safe to say that Goans are not quite sure what happened. That there is a huge feeling of being let down or even cheated is apparent.

“The BJP did not do what it promised. We need proper infrastructure, roads, water, electricity. None of this was done during their time. We wanted change. Goa Forward was a good option because neither the Congress nor the BJP has kept its promises. We did not expect Goa Forward to go with the BJP,” said Victor D’Souza, the sarpanch of Assagao, which is part of Siolim, a Goa Forward seat. “Parrikar is a strong man. He will do something. When he was here, there was good development. But they pulled him to Delhi, and that is when things started slowing down again.” Anil Naik, a small businessman from Assagao, said: “I think this a good thing. The BJP is better than the Congress, which is full of infighting. There are too many Chief Minister candidates in the Congress.”

Edwin Fonseca, State president of the All India Catholic Union, said: “The vote showed that we did not want the BJP, but everyone is an opportunist and that’s why the final result is what it is. By doing what he did and by letting down his constituents, Sardesai will see his credibility fall. I don’t think he will win another election after this. Let us see if he does a good job.” Fonseca believes that until now Goa has stayed clear of communal politics. But he thinks that Parrikar has put power in dangerous hands by giving Sudhin Davlikar, leader of the MGP, a prominent portfolio. “The MGP and Davlikar are connected to the Sanathan Sanstha, a hard-core right-wing group. The Ram Sena is connected to Davlikar. We are in danger of going the Uttar Pradesh way if such people are brought in,” he said.

Fonseca expressed surprise that Parrikar gave up the Defence Minister’s post to come back as Chief Minister. Anthony Francis, a shack owner from Calangute, said he was “shocked at the final outcome”. “We are very disappointed. The people have voted, but these are dangerous times and I don’t want to say too much.”

Francis said the BJP had not encouraged the “shack” business although tourism was an important factor in the State’s economy. “They are only pandering to the casinos because they bring money. For us small operators, there is nothing.”

Francis pointed out that the BJP had promised to remove the casino ships from the Mandovi river: “They have not left, in fact more have been added.”

The Congress has accused the BJP of having taken “U-turns” on several issues, and the casino issue is one of them.

Another critical point is mining. The earlier BJP government placed a blanket ban on mining, which may have protected the environment but caused despair and massive livelihood loss to the local people who depended on this sector. “Now they say they will open the mines again. They do not seem to have any policy or clear direction. Hopefully, some help will come for people who depended on the mines.” Employment and infrastructure are the two things most people want to see addressed.

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