Panaji: A group of ten Congress MLAs in Goa led by Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Chandrakant Kavlekar Wednesday merged with the ruling BJP, increasing the saffron party's strength to 27 in the 40-seat house.
The Congress, which had emerged as single-largest party after 2017 Assembly polls in the coastal state, is now reduced to five legislators.
Accompanied by Kavlekar and nine other Congress MLAs, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced that two thirds of the Congress Legislative Party — enough to avoid action under the anti-defection law — has merged with the BJP.
The letter of merger was handed over to Speaker Rajesh Patnekar in Sawant's presence on Wednesday evening. Patnekar later confirmed receiving the letter.
The chief minister said with this, the BJP's numbers have gone up to 27 on the floor of the House. The Congress MLAs had expressed willingness to join the BJP, he said. At this juncture the BJP had not taken any decision as to its coalition partners (whether to keep them in government or not), he added.
With 27 MLAs, the party does not need allies anymore. "At least for now we have not decided anything," he said.
The monsoon session of the Assembly is scheduled to begin from July 15.
To a question, Sawant said no new inductions in the state cabinet were on cards.
Kavlekar said he and other MLAs decided to join the BJP as development works in their constituencies were suffering as they were in opposition.
"We have seen Sawant's working style. He is working for the progress of the state. We decided to join hands with him. Being in opposition, our development works were also suffering," Kavlekar said.
They joined the BJP unconditionally, he claimed. The MLAs who joined the BJP alongwith Kavlekar are Atanasio Monserratte, Jeniffer Monserratte, Francis Silveira, Philip Nery Rodrigues, Cleaofacio Dias, Wilfred D'Sa, Nilkant Halarnkar, Isidor Fernandes and Antonio Fernandes.
Goa Pradesh Congress Committee President Girish Chodankar said the BJP has exposed its intense insecurity with its coalition partner and within its camp by the induction. "They are not attempting to have 'One Nation, One Election' but 'One Nation, One Party'," he said.
Reacting sharply to the development, Utpal Parrikar, son of late Manohar Parrikar, said that the BJP has "taken a different direction" after his father's demise.
Utpal Parrikar was a contender for the BJP ticket for assembly by-election following his father's death, but was not fielded. Eventually, it was the Congress' Atanasio Monserratte who won the election in May.
"The words like trust and commitment which were at the core of the BJP during Manohar Parrikar's time ceased to exist on March 17 (when the former Goa chief minister and BJP leader died)," Utpal Parrikar said. "The party has taken a different direction after March 17 and only time will tell whether it is the right one."
Utpal Parrikar said he will continue to be in the BJP and support the veteran party workers.
The BJP has now 27 MLAs, its ally Goa Forward Party three MLAs, Congress has five while NCP and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) have one MLA each. Three independent MLAs are BJP's allies.
After the 2017 polls, a hung assembly had emerged, with Congress winning 17 and BJP 13 seats. But the BJP outsmarted the Congress by cobbling together a coalition quickly.
Sawant and the ten newly inducted MLAs would be leaving for Delhi Wednesday night to meet the BJP high command, party sources said.
(With inputs from PTI)