An aggressive Congress rears its head in Goa with all guns trained on BJP govt
Ever since the Congress failed to form the government in Goa despite emerging as the single largest party, party strategists have gone on an overdrive in their attempt to destabilise the Manohar Parrikar government.
The BJP only leads by a thin majority and depends heavily on two of its allies who hold the key to the Goa Assembly.
A change in leadership
In fact, after months of a lull, Congress is witnessing a flurry of activities with its top leaders reaching out to BJP leaders and saffron party's alliance partners in order to topple the Parrikar government. This new-found aggression in the state unit is a result of a change in the leadership, essentially removing Digvijaya Singh as state in-charge, who was accused of reacting too late after the results threw up a hung assembly.
Recent reports from the coastal state suggest that Congress was on the verge of pulling a coup and it was the last minute negotiations by Parrikar who managed to save his government. According to party leaders, this new found aggression is a result of promoting A Chella Kumar as the general secretary in-charge of the state.
A deputy of Singh, Kumar has emerged from the shadows of his former boss and is now holding negotiations with not only BJP's alliance partners but also the state unit that is fraught with factionalism. In fact, one of the prominent reasons for BJP's alliance partner, Goa Forward Party (GFP), to choose the saffron party over the grand old party was Congress state president Luizinho Falerio.
One of the key demands of GFP leader Vijai Sardesai was not naming Falerio as the party's chief ministerial candidate. Falerio, the state president, was the front runner for the chief minister's berth and when Sardesai's plea was not entertained, he switched loyalty to BJP despite being extremely critical of the party's policies in the run up to the assembly elections.
The race for the CM's chair
According to sources, Kumar has also been holding talks with state leaders and recently 14 MLAs approached former Congress leader Atanasio Monserratte and requested him to contest Panaji bypolls against Parrikar. The Chief Minister will have to contest polls to continue as chief minister and if he loses, the tide could certainly turn in Congress' favour.
After the state threw a hung assembly, GFP extended support to the BJP on the condition of Parrikar returning to the state and taking over as the chief minister. It is for this reason that Congress is going out of its way to convince expelled Monserratte to contest against Parrikar.
Moreover, during the meeting of these legislators with Monserratte, there was a consensus that Falerio should quit as the party chief to ensure the former's return. These legislators were also of the view that Falerio's exit could see GFP rethinking its strategy of supporting BJP. Even the two independents who extended support to BJP could also return to the Congress fold in wake of such a move.
Reports also suggest that the Congress is not averse to naming Sardesai as the chief minister if he along with the independents severs all ties with BJP. If the Congress manages to convince Sardesai, it could be a masterstroke that could deal a huge blow to BJP.
“Five of these legislators were ready for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress so if we could win them back, it would be huge morale booster for not only the state unit but also for the national leadership. If one man's exit could help us form the government, it should be done at the earliest. Also, there have been suggestion to name Sardesai as CM candidate but we will think over it,” said a Congress leader from the state.
In fact, when made aware about the desire of the majority of party workers, Falerio is presence of Kumar told media that he is ready to quit any position in the interest of the party and the organisation. He went on to add that even if one MLA, forget 14, feels that Congress can form the government, he will do it.
It is also being speculated that even Monserratte has put Falerio's exit as a precondition to fight against the chief minister on a Congress ticket.
GFP's Sardesai, a former Congressman, has been at loggerheads with Falerio and blames him for backstabbing him twice. It was this feud which led to Congress' failure to form government in the state. After the results of the assembly elections were announced, Congress won 17, BJP 13 while GFP, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak and independents managed three seats each in the 40 member assembly.
The next steps
Since then a BJP and Congress legislator have resigned taking the total tally to 38. If these five extend support to the grand old party, its tally would go up to 21 while BJP would be left with only 16, paving way for Congress to form the government.
Amid these rumours, Sardesai ruled out the possibility of him backstabbing Parrikar who according to him left the defence minister's post to take over the reigns of Goa. He went on to add that Congress is a divided house with too many chief ministers and should not be touched. Sardesai also said that GFP would support Parrikar in the Panaji by-election and was confident of the chief minister winning the seat with comfortable margin.
The political climate in Goa is heating up and political observers are keenly awaiting for the Panaji bypolls which could decide whether the coastal state further plunges into a period of political uncertainty.