The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition won the trust vote in Goa on Thursday with the support of 22 MLAs, including 13 from the BJP. The Congress, the single-largest party in the House, did not only fall short of the numbers on the floor of the House, it faced an additional embarrassment. The party had won 17 seats in the just-concluded Assembly elections. However, one of its MLAs, Vishwajit Rane, absented himself during the crucial vote, bringing the party’s tally down to 16 on Thursday.
Vishwajit Rane is the MLA from Valpoi in North Goa, and son of six-time Congress Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane. Soon after abstaining from the vote, he handed in his resignation as MLA to the pro-tem Speaker, Siddharth Kuncalienkar. He is expected to recontest the polls as an independent.
The February 4 polls threw up a hung Assembly in which independents and smaller groups have benefitted hugely from lending their support to the BJP, which fell short of the numbers to form the government on its own. The supporters have been rewarded. The 10-member Goa cabinet led by Manohar Parrikar comprises of three members of the Goa Forward Party, two from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, and two independents. Two cabinet ministers are first-time MLAs. The government can appoint two more ministers to reach the constitutional upper limit of 12 for the 40-member House.
Building up to his resignation on Thursday, Vishwajit Rane had begun criticising the Congress leadership soon after the BJP, with 13 MLAs, was able to cobble together a coalition and form the government 24 hours after the March 11 results.
His resignation, therefore, was not unexpected. He had sought out the media to speak out against the Congress emissaries in the state, blaming them for delaying the decision to stake a claim to form the government.
“I am disgusted with the way the High Command and observers have mismanaged the situation in Goa,” Vishwajit Rane told this reporter. “There was sheer mismanagement and lethargy. They messed up Goa prior to the elections and after the elections.”
With 17 MLAs the Congress missed an opportunity to form the government on the night of March 11 itself.
Congress insiders said that the party had three independents and the lone Nationalist Congress Party MLA willing to ally with it on the night of March 11, which would have brought its tally to 21. However, a delay by Digvijay Singh, the All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of Goa, may have cost the party the government, a party insider said.
Singh also tried to bring the Goa Forward Party on board, but that plan failed. Goa Forward Party leader Vijai Sardesai apparently kept the Congress engaged in negotiations with mediators, but eventually chose to ally with the BJP instead.
Manohar Parrikar and members of his cabinet were sworn in on Tuesday. Though Governor Mridula Sinha gave the Parrikar-led government 15 days to prove its majority in the House, the Congress petitioned the apex court that Raj Bhavan had gone against convention by not first inviting the Congress, the single largest party, to form the government. The Supreme Court then advanced the floor test to March 16.
Congress cautious on Rane
With Goa’s long and varied history of defection cases reaching the courts, the Congress took a cautious path on the matter of Vishwajit Rane’s resignation. Congress Legislature Party leader Chandrakant Kavlekar told reporters that the legislature party would first try to ascertain why Rane had absented himself during the trust vote, before considering its next move.
“He was with us all these days, even this morning,” said Kavlekar. “He took the oath as an MLA, signed the Congress whip and then left. We are trying to reach him to elicit an explanation.” Only then, he said, will the Congress Legislature Party meet to decide on the matter.