On Tuesday, the day after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Goa dropped two ministers of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party from the cabinet, the ruling party tried to hold together the pieces of the fraying partnership .

Brothers Sudin Dhavlikar and Dipak Dhavlikar were dropped for publicly criticising Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar several times, even saying that the two parties would contest the state polls together next year only if he is replaced.

Shortly after dealing this blow, however, the BJP on Tuesday morning said that an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party in next year’s years assembly elections “could not be ruled out” and that the partnership was still intact.

“Let me make it clear. On our side we have not terminated the alliance,” former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who effectively leads the Goa unit of the BJP told the media. “The decision to drop the two ministers was a government decision that was supported by the BJP party. But an alliance agreement takes place at a party-to-party level between two political parties. Those channels are still open.”

Troubled times

This tussle between the two parties has come at the end of a five-year alliance, ahead of next year’s pools. The BJP has 21 seats in the 40-member Goa legislative assembly and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party has three.

Despite enjoying a majority, the BJP seems to be at pains to save the alliance. Parrikar on Tuesday said the sibling leaders had been dropped because they expressed mistrust and lack of confidence in the chief minister, but the BJP was open a tie-up for the 2017 polls.

“We feel an alliance is in the interest of Goa,” he said on Tuesday. “Informally, I reached out to them three-four months back and we were in agreement. That channel is still open.”

Another twist

The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party was the dominant party in Goa after the state freed itself from Portuguese rule in 1961, but has, over the years, been come to be sidelined by the Congress and later, the BJP.

However, it is critical for the BJP to have the saffron party on its side when it goes to polls next year, amid public perception that the ruling party has not delivered on key promises made in 2012, earning the BJP-led government the nickname “U turn government”. One of these, also in the party’s 2012 election manifesto, was that the state would be granted special status – something Paresekar ruled out in November. The Aam Aadmi Party, which is also contesting the polls next year, has taken advantage of this and has promised special status to the state if it comes to power.

Moreover, sniping at its heels and growing stronger each week is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Goa’s breakaway unit, headed by school principal Subhash Velingkar. The Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch, convened by Velingkar, the former RSS Goa chief, has been agitating against the BJP for continuing the Congress government’s policy of giving government aid to English-medium primary schools.

Velingkar, who was sacked by the RSS for his continued agitation against the BJP, in October floated a new party, Goa Suraksha Manch, created a third saffron entity in the state after the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the BJP. Velingkar, who managed a tie up with the Shiv Sena for the Goa elections last month, has since been actively wooing the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, offering the BJP ally its choice of seats and even the chief minister’s post.

Saffron tussle

Given the dour mood in the state, the last thing the party needs is a two-way or three-way split in the Hindutva vote and is hence trying to hold on tight to its alliance.

The Goa Suraksha Manch-Sena alliance, though a fledgling unit, could eat into the BJP’s votes and could cause a major dent to the party in constituencies where victory margins are low. If the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party were to come to its side, this alliance could emerge as an alternate hardline saffron bulwark against the BJP.

Though the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party has ignored the Goa Suraksha Manch’s overtures so far, the fact that it is sought-after gives it a stronger hand to bargain over seat-sharing for next year’s polls, among other things.

By dropping the two cabinet ministers from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party while also keeping the doors to a tie-up next year open, the BJP has taken a risky gamble to assert its upper hand in the alliance.