After victory, behind-the-scenes drama over Goa CM's chair
While Pramod Sawant barely managed to win the Sanquelim seat, a few MLAs in the BJP are unhappy even in victory, says senior journalist K R Sreenivas.
Hours after the BJP won 20 of the 40 assembly seats in Goa in the elections held on February 14, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced that they will meet Governor P S Sreedharan Pillai on Thursday evening to stake claim to form the government. That meeting is yet to take place.
BJP in-charge of Goa, Devendra Fadnavis has said the party MLAs will meet on Friday and then decide on a date to stake claim to form the government. The BJP has said that it has letters of support of the MGP (two seats) and three Independent MLAs to form the government. The MGP had walked out of the alliance stating that they will work with BJP provided Pramod Sawant is replaced. But now the situation has turned and they may not be in a position to insist on this demand.
Behind the scenes, the BJP is perhaps caught in a fight to claim the top post if sources are to be believed. While Pramod Sawant barely managed to win the Sanquelim seat, a few MLAs in the BJP are unhappy even in victory. The reason is their ambition to become the chief minister.
Among those expressing aggressive intent are Vishwajit Rane, Mauvin Godinho and Atanasio Babush Monsserate, and all three are lobbying. While Vishwajit and Monserrate are fighting over who among the two should claim the CM’s post, the two are also heckling with Sawant, it is learnt.
The BJP leadership may back Sawant as they do not encourage dissensions. But the claimants see an opportunity in a fragile political atmosphere despite the BJP’s victory.
After all, many who are currently in the BJP hoped after defecting the Congress post-2017 elections. Their heart may not be in the BJP and their only goal may be to become the chief minister. Neither of the claimants has any RSS connection.
There are back-channel talks among the possible dissidents. It is understood that Michael Lobo who has won a hattrick in Calangute is talking to Rane and Monserrate. Lobo who had won in 2012 and 2017 on a BJP ticket, contested and won in 2022 on a Congress ticket. All the three leaders have their spouses too as victorious MLAs -- Deviya Vishwajit Rane (Poreim), Jennifer Monserrate (Taleigao) and Delilah Michael Lobo (Siolim). The six together will form a strong grouping.
The challenge for the Rane couple and Monserrate couple is to get more backing within the party or to get backing of two-thirds from the BJP to move as a block. Mauvin Godinho, who had jumped from the Congress to the BJP post-2017, Nilesh Cabral, Nilkant Harlankar, Ramesh Tawadkar and some who joined the BJP from the Congress could be possibilities.
Rane and Monserrate, with help from Lobo, are talking to many MLAs. They are hoping to elicit support to form a grouping to build pressure.
The Congress is watching the developments, but there is doubt if they will have the stamina to pull it off. They are caught between a weak leadership in Delhi and similar weak strategists in Goa. There is no strong leader within.
Also, any eventuality of a split at this stage may not be easy since BJP is ruling at the Centre. But one needs to go back in time to see the behaviour of the many turn-coats the party has got from the Congress. Monserrate himself engineered a split in the BJP led by Late Manohar Parrikar in 2005, thus bringing down Parrikar’s government.
Monserrate was Town and Country Planning Minister in the government but was stripped of his portfolio on charges of corruption from the ministry on a day when Micky Pacheko merged his United Goans Party Democratic (Secular-Micky) with the BJP taking the party’s tally in the House to 21.
Monserrate resigned from the cabinet. Soon, along with Monserrate, Pacheco, Issidore Fernandes and Pandurang Madkaikar resigned as MLAs from the Assembly. Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party leader Ramakrishna Sudhin Dawalikar, along with Independent MLA Filipe Neri Rodrigues resigned from the cabinet and withdrew support to the government.
The rebel group gave a letter of support to a Congress-led government and it led to Congress forming a government under Pratapsinh Rane as chief minister after das of drama inside the Assembly. In the 2012 elections, Monserrate contested on a Congress ticket and was made the Education Minister.
Rane himself ditched the Congress in 2017 after realising he had no future in the Congress at that time and joined the BJP as he was ambitious. He saw a chance for himself post Parrikar era, but the BJP leadership went with Pramod Sawant, an RSS protégé. Rane is frustrated and in a hurry to become the chief minister.
Towards the end of the term, Rane became aggressive lobbying in Delhi and also working against Sawant behind the scenes. Michael Lobo, another aspirant left the BJP and jumped to the Congress hoping to be offered chief ministership in the event of a Congress victory.
The results have upset the apple cart for the trio of Rane, Monserrate and Lobo. But the three may find comfort as a grouping and will become a power centre together. Of the three, Rane sees himself as the most eligible candidate as the CM as his father, Pratapsinh Rane, was a six-time chief minister and one of the tallest leaders of the Congress.
Monserrate has his ambitions raised since he is now a four-time MLA including the 2022 election and he has wrested the prestigious Panaji constituency. Michael Lobo has done a hattrick in Calangute and is growing in stature and he too wants to seize the opportunity.
By putting pressure in staking a claim to become chief minister, they may also bargain key portfolios for now but at the same time, they could lead a coup at any stage. Goa’s politics have been fragile for many years and defections are not new.
The Congress, in P Chidambaram's words, lost out this election because of the division of votes in at least seven seats severely denting their chances of winning this election.
In an election where there was a strong anti-incumbency factor, they missed a good chance to win outright. They did not deal with the challenge posed by the several smaller parties, which mostly cut into the Congress votes.
Says a Congress candidate who lost the election, "There was no unity in the Congress, too many internal differences, no strategy and no discussions. No one is listening to our views, they didn’t even ask us what are the issues. We even raised the issues of smaller parties contesting and cutting our votes. We don't know what they were communicating to the Congress leadership. This defeat is shocking to us."
The maximum damage was done by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Revolutionary Goans Party. In some seats, they lost by a narrow margin. In Velim, the AAP candidate Cruz Silva defeated his nearest rival D’Silva Savio of the Congress by 169 votes.
Ravi Naik of the BJP beat Ketan Prabhu Bhatikar of MGP by 77 votes. In St Andre, Revolutionary Goans candidate Viresh Borkar defeated BJP’s Francisco Silveira by 27 votes, and the Congress was left behind. Despite the comfort of winning half the seats, the BJP may still have thorns to wade through.