The resignations of two Congress legislators from the Goa Assembly on Tuesday morning have given the ruling BJP some breathing space in the coastal state. The resignations have changed the Congress’s status as the single-largest party in the Assembly, by levelling out the numbers. The Congress is now down from 16 legislators to 14 in the 40-member House. The BJP also has 14 legislators.
The BJP-led coalition in Goa has been under strain for a few months now, with the continuing ill health of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar – who is suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer – and the hospitalisation of former ministers Francis D’Souza and Pandurang Madkaikar.
Over the past weeks, the Congress had petitioned Governor Mridula Sinha and the President that the BJP had lost its majority in Goa and demanded that as the single-largest party, it be allowed to prove its majority in the House. The two resignations from the Congress have ensured that the BJP will have an equal right to stake its claim before the Governor should Parrikar’s condition deteriorate further.
In case of any eventuality, Raj Bhavan is duty bound to first call the single-largest party to form the government. By reducing the Congress’s numbers, the BJP’s managers have temporarily staved off this immediate challenge. For now, it can claim that it has a majority with its allies, and can run a stable government. At present the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party – with three MLAs each – back the BJP. Three independents are also part of the ruling alliance.
In the 2017 Assembly elections in Goa, no party had won a majority, but the Congress emerged as the single-largest party with 17 seats. The BJP won 13 seats but it was the first to stake claim to form the government, citing the support of other parties and independents. At that time, several allies had said that they would only support a government headed by Parrikar, who resigned as Union defence minister to take charge in Goa.
BJP vs Congress
Congress legislators Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte sent their resignations on Tuesday morning to the office of Goa Speaker Pramod Sawant. Shirodkar, a former Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president, confirmed to Scroll.in, that he had resigned as an MLA and would join the BJP on Tuesday evening. “I have done it for the development of my constituency [Shiroda in North Goa] and for the development of Goa,” Shirodkar said.
Sopte said he had been given an assurance by BJP president Amit Shah, Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane and state BJP president Vinay Tendulkar, that his constituency of Mandrem in North Goa would see infrastructure and human resource development.
On Monday, expecting that the BJP would attempt to poach its legislators, the Congress had called all its MLAs to the home of the leader of the Opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar. Shirodkar and Sopte slipped out of that meeting, and left for New Delhi late on Monday night.
“I will definitely contest if there is a byelection,” Shirodkar told Scroll.in.
For the moment, both the new BJP members are unlikely to get any ministerships for which there is already a scramble within the coalition.
Parrikar holds several portfolios – including the key ones of home and finance. They are expected to be distributed to others shortly.
The chief minister was being treated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi for the past few weeks, and his condition is reportedly still critical. On Sunday, he was taken in an air ambulance to his home in Goa, where intensive care facilities have been set up.
Though bulletins from the Chief Minister’s Office say Parrikar’s condition is stable, the party began political activity to set up a fall-back plan and rejig the coalition’s numbers in case his condition deteriorates further.
“Right now, the strategy is to see that if fresh government formation is required, the Opposition should not have single-largest party status,” a BJP insider told Scroll.in. “After that, we will see who to choose as our leader.”
At present, Health Minister Rane – who has been credited with managing to break the Congress – is ahead of the race to assume leadership of the fractious coalition. A former Congress MLA, Rane resigned and crossed over to the BJP shortly after the March 2017 elections, and got a cabinet berth. Because he is a Congress crossover, he faces opposition from both within the BJP and its allies.