Mumbai: “This was their strategy all along. (Late Chief Minister Manohar) Parrikar did not pay heed,” counter-alleges Goa Deputy Chief Minister Vijai Sardesai, of the Goa Forward Party (GFP).
Now that 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs from Goa have already joined the BJP and are awaiting a Cabinet reshuffle, the fate of the allies hangs in the balance.
In the 40-member Goa Assembly, the BJP’s strength until Wednesday was 17. Along with three GFP MLAs and three Independents, the saffron party had formed a stable government in the state. But now, the BJP alone has 27.
Along with Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Chandrakant Kavlekar, the MLAs who joined the BJP are Atanasio Monserratte, Jeniffer Monserratte, Francis Silveira, Philip Nery Rodrigues, Cleaofacio Dias, Wilfred D'Sa, Nilkant Halarnkar, Isidor Fernandes and Antonio Fernandes.
The state is already abuzz with speculation about the ouster of GFP and Independents, and cabinet berths for Michael Lobo and Babu Kavalekar. What is being discussed in hush-hush tone is whether the BJP’s efforts were prompted by the adamant stand of the GFP’s Vijai Sardesai and his refusal to forgo a Cabinet berth to accommodate Lobo.
Countering this speculation, Sardesai claimed that this has been the strategy of Congress leaders all along.
“A few years ago too, they had asked me to join the Congress government. When I had refused, they had told me they will themselves merge with the BJP and will oust me,” he told CNN News18. “Parrikar had not paid any heed to them then. I don’t know why the BJP has taken them now. There was no instability. There was no need to do this.”
When asked how he viewed the current political developments, Sardesai said, “The Congress has split. There is a political upheaval in the state. But I haven’t contributed to it. The impact of this step is unknown to me. There was no provocation for this step. So I don’t know what prompted the BJP to do this. What I am saying is this has been endorsed by Parrikar’s own son.”
Earlier on Thursday, Manohar Parrikar's son Utpal panned the move to induct the 10 Congress MLAs into the BJP’s fold and said that what happened is "definitely a different path" from the one his father had taken.
Babu Kavalekar, the former Leader of Opposition of the Congress, is speculated to be in line to becoming the deputy chief minister. Goa already has two deputy chief ministers — Sardesai and the BJP’s Manohar Ajgaonkar. Will the GFP be asked to step out of the alliance?
“I am a part of the NDA. There was an understanding during the formation of the government that I will be conveyed a message by the national leadership of the BJP. I have spoken to Amit Shah in the past as well. I have not yet been conveyed anything by the national leadership. Right now, my role is to wait and watch,” said Sardesai.
When asked if his party had been recently requested to forgo a Cabinet berth in order to accommodate Lobo, Sardesai said the state leadership had no business telling him anything.
“And the national leadership did not convey anything to me. All those from the BJP who are in the government now were not a part of the government-forming process after the demise of Manohar Parrikar,” he said. “Now, if I have to resign, it should have been conveyed to me.”
“What justifies getting the filth that you have got from the Congress to your own party?” questioned Sardesai.
On the other hand, the MLAs who joined the BJP have cited several reasons for their defection, one of them being that development work in their constituencies was suffering. Sources said a lack of leadership and guidance from the central Congress leaders was another reason for the disintegration of the party in the state.
The undercurrent is also about the BJP wooing Catholic Christians in the state. Five of the 10 former Congress MLAs who joined the BJP are Catholics; the community is socio-politically and economically dominant in Goa. The move to bring the 10 ex-Congress MLAs into the BJP fold is being credited to the party’s Catholic leader Michael Lobo.
The move is not just a body-blow to the Congress, which has been reduced to five MLAs in the state, but is a huge fillip to the BJP that now has 27 of the 40 seats in the Goa assembly.