AS the Congress struggles to save the coalition government with JD(S) in Karnataka, it suffered a major setback in Goa with 10 of its 15 MLAs joining the BJP on Wednesday.
With this, the ruling BJP ‘s strength in the Assembly swells to 27, and the strength of the Congress which won 17 seats in 2017, stands reduced to five. Two Congress MLAs had joined the BJP earlier.
Sources in BJP said a Cabinet reshuffle may follow soon and indicated that most allies may be dropped. At present, five of the 12 ministerial berths are held by allies — which now “are open for new entrants,” said a BJP leader.
“They came with the resignations and I accepted,” confirmed Speaker Rajesh Patnekar and added the monsoon session of the Assembly will commence as per schedule on July 15. “Only their seating arrangement will change,” he said.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant who was present in the Assembly house to welcome the MLAs said, “They had come for development of the state and their constituency. They have joined the BJP unconditionally.”
The MLAs who joined are Chandrakant Kavlekar, Atanasio Monserrate, Jennifer Monserrate, Filipe Neri Rodrigues, Nilkanth Halarnkar, Francisco Silveira, Clafasio Dias, Isidore Fernandes, Wilfred D’Sa, Tony Fernandes.
The anti-defection law makes it mandatory that two-thirds of the strength of a party should agree for a ‘merger’. The amendment, which came into force in January 2004, does not recognise a ‘split’ in a legislature party and instead recognises a ‘merger’.
Atanasio Monserrate, the MLA who just two months ago had snatched the Panjim seat from BJP winning on a Congress ticket – Panjim by poll was considered to be the most prestigious seat with Manohar Parrikar having won it since 1994 – is said to be the “negotiator behind the water shed moment”. He, however, denied it.
“We just decided this yesterday. We are all colleagues and old friends. After two years I came to Assembly and I told them (Congress) these are the promises I made to the people which need to be fulfilled. I am not any negotiator. We are just friends. We had a good cup of tea. We got together and said this is the best way out as far as development is concerned. I am not looking out for any ministry and no demands were placed at all,” Monserrate told The Indian Express.
When asked if the timing of Karnataka and Goa was planned, he said “It’s a fantastic coincidence. Nothing is pre-planned.”
Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo said all portfolio decisions now rest with the Chief Minister and “nothing else will be discussed now”.
Admitting it was time for “Congress to go back to the grass root level”, President of Goa Pradesh Congress Committee Girish Chodankar said, “BJP has exposed its intense insecurity with its coalition partners and within its camp by inducting 10 Congress MLAs. Despite having clear numbers, BJP Chief minister Pramod Sawant indulging in such unethical practices has displayed his fear to face the united opposition in the upcoming Assembly session. The group of 10 Congress MLAs have changed sides, falling prey to the blackmailing and other luring tactics adopted by BJP. Is this the new India the BJP is advocating after the Lok Sabha election. This is also a lesson to its alliance partners who went against the mandate of people in 2017 and installed BJP in power. This was the day in waiting as they disrespected the common people.”
“Everyone wanted a Congress government to come to power. But we are frustrated by being in the opposition and development of the constituency was also suffering. We have been in the opposition for long and to continue with no development of the constituency was not acceptable. We have joined the BJP to ensure development in the constituency and, provide jobs for our youth,” Kavlekar told the press after he joined the BJP.
Of the five left in the Congress — Ravi Naik, Luizinho Faleiro, Pratapsingh Rane, Digambar Kamat and Alex Reginaldo — the first four have been the state chief minister. Internally, Congress MLAs also say the decision was taken with the poor leadership within the party and lack of unity.
When contacted, Reginaldo confirmed he was given an offer too to join the BJP. “This is the worst type of politics. Only time will tell, People are watching, “ he said.
The next development, according to BJP sources, will be dropping few ministers from the cabinet, with the Goa Forward Party losing all its ministerial berths including that of Deputy CM held by its leader Vijai Sardesai.