The rejigging of cabinet berths and delegation of portfolios in the crisis-hit Goa government is proving to be a minefield for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The party has taken two weeks to negotiate a still-incomplete redistribution of power in its fractious alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party, but its troubles only seem to have multiplied.
On September 24, the BJP finally dropped its ailing ministers Francis D’Souza and Pandurang Madkaikar, replacing them with Nilesh Cabral and Milind Naik. The absence of Madkaikar since June and D’Souza since August had added to the strain the BJP was already under on account of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s frequent hospitalisations since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. Parrikar’s prolonged absence from the state as he seeks treatment in Mumbai, New York and Delhi has led to a leadership crisis in Goa with the Opposition Congress accusing the BJP of putting governance on hold.
However, the reshuffle triggered protestations, criticism and jostling within the coalition and within the party.
Prasad Gaonkar – who is one of three independent legislators supporting the BJP-led coalition – resigned as chairman of the Goa State Forest Development Corporation on September 25. He said he was disappointed with the functioning of the government.
D’Souza, who had held the urban development portfolio and is currently in a hospital in the United States, said he felt slighted. He said he would return to Goa in mid-October and resign from the state BJP’s core committee in protest.
Madkaikar’s family said the former power minister, who is recuperating from a stroke, was not informed of his removal.
Meanwhile, supporters of several other BJP legislators publicly demanded better positions for their leaders – the indiscipline underscoring the state unit’s reliance on Parrikar to deftly handle such crises. Currently, at least four legislators are jockeying to head high-profile government bodies such as the Goa Tourism Development Corporation.
The preoccupation of the state’s ministers and political leaders with the portfolio reallocation drew criticism on social media, even as most of the mainstream media refrained from questioning the governance model now in place.
Pressure from allies, Opposition
But it is not just its legislators who are creating trouble for the BJP. Its coalition partners have also been vocal about the alleged impasse in government projects. Pointing to the fact that Parrikar handles 48 portfolios, they have sought alternative arrangements for this.
Soon after the 62-year-old chief minister was airlifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi on September 15, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party said it was “high time” the BJP handed over charge to a senior minister. The Goa Forward Party, on its part, rallied six legislators – three of its own and three independents – to press for a “permanent solution” to the leadership crisis.
In the following days, BJP national president Amit Shah sent three central observers to Goa to hold consultations with state party leaders and the allies on finding a temporary replacement for Parrikar. However, on September 23, Shah tweeted that Parrikar would continue to head the government. But he indicated that portfolios would be distributed to allow the government to function while the chief minister was away.
However, the overt hustling has continued in the alliance, heightening the perception of a government gasping to stay in control.
Pressure has also come from the Opposition, with the Congress claiming governance in Goa is suffering and staking its claim to form the government. This is on the strength of its position as the single largest party in the state with 16 MLAs in the 40-member House. The BJP has 14 seats, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party have three each, and three independents back the government. The Congress has also sought a floor test in the Assembly, given the reduction in the numbers the ruling dispensation can present.
Rocky road to 2019
To manage the optics, the BJP party high command ordered a show of strength after the post-reshuffle discord last week. Ministers met at the secretariat on Friday and Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party said that though administration had slowed down in the chief minister’s absence, they would act as “shock absorbers” and hold weekly meetings to assess the progress of budgetary proposals. Public Works Department Minister and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party leader Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavalikar’s assertion that Parrikar was running the administration from his hospital bed and clearing files sent for his approval within three days was along similar lines.
According to political leaders close to the alliance, Parrikar’s retention as chief minister, despite his ill health, is critical to the BJP-led government’s survival. This is because the letters of support signed by both alliance partners after the state elections in March 2017 are conditional to Parrikar’s leadership. It cannot risk swearing in a new chief minister or going through with a confidence vote, given its depleted numbers. Any alternative that does not find the support of the allies could destabilise the government.
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the possible loss of any state government is a risk the BJP is unwilling to take. For now, it appears to be banking on maintaining status quo in Goa until the general elections.