Mumbai: As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) explores all options to save its government in Goa and the opposition Congress makes another bid at capturing the state, both parties face a similar set of problems that make government formation a tough task in this coastal state with a record of political instability.
Functionaries from the BJP and Congress, two smaller but significant parties Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Paksha (MGP) and Goa Forward (GF), and political observers feel that chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s serious illness has created a political crisis that will be tough to negotiate for all stakeholders, more so the BJP and Congress.
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“We do not have a leader in the BJP of the stature of Parrikar. A large section of our MLAs and cadres does not want to work under a chief minister who is an import from some other party. Yet, a replacement has to be found sooner or later to save the government," a senior BJP functionary in Goa told Mint on the condition of anonymity. He said though the MGP, GF, and the Independents were with BJP, it was Parrikar who had “welded the coalition together".
“Parrikar is our tallest leader. He has dominated the state and the BJP in Goa for nearly three decades now. Besides us, the MGP, GF, and Independents also look up to him. Another BJP leader won’t wield the same authority and the allies could rethink continuing their support to the BJP," the BJP functionary said.
In the 40-member Goa assembly, the BJP has 14 legislators and it leads a coalition government with the MGP and GF, which have three legislators each, and three Independents. The Congress has 16 members. In March 2017, when the BJP cobbled together this coalition and was asked to clear a floor test, the lone legislator from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supported the BJP. Even though the Congress was the single largest party—it actually won 17 seats but one of its legislators Vishwajit Rane quit the party and joined the BJP to be re-elected on the BJP ticket and become a cabinet minister--the BJP worked swiftly to demonstrate the requisite numbers. Both the MGP and GF committed their support to the BJP on the condition that Parrikar becomes the chief minister. The MGP and GF, in particular MGP leader and PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar and GF leader and country and town planning minister Vijay Sardesai, are not on good terms.
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On Sunday, the MGP dismissed speculation that it was merging with the BJP. “The MGP would like to stay in power but merging with the BJP would mean an end to our bargaining power as an independent party," said an MGP office-bearer who did not wish to be named. Asked if the MGP was negotiating for the post of chief minister, he remained non-committal but said the “emerging situation would determine the MGP’s stand". However, a BJP legislator who requested anonymity said a majority of party MLAs were against supporting an MGP nominee for the chief minister’s post. “We feel that since the BJP leads the coalition, a BJP legislator needs to be picked as Parrikar’s replacement," he said.
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The GF, registered in January 2016, is a party of Congress rebels and in 2017 it spurned the Congress to go along with the BJP. “The GF had substantial support of Goa’s Christian community as it was fighting the BJP in 2016-17. But it lost much of this support and goodwill after it went with the very same BJP. Now, Sardesai cannot go back to the Congress and seek support, but he can merge with the BJP and ask for the post of chief minister," says a Panaji-based political commentator and resident editor of Marathi daily Lokmat Raju Nayak. However, the MGP is unlikely to support a dispensation in which Sardesai is the chief minister, the MGP office-bearer said. Nayak says the Congress would be ill-advised to think of an alliance with the MGP as the latter was “very close to controversial and obscurantist outfits like the Sanatan Sanstha".