RIDING THE COCONUT WAVE: Babush Monserrate has evaluated all his options and chosen his running mate. Parrikar will heave a sigh of relief at not having to face him in Panaji, but it may be short-lived
By Rajan Narayan
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Goa seemed all set for a mini general election. For a Saturday following the week when it was an action replay of the situation in 2002, when Babush quit the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP) and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For a Saturday following the week when the defection of Babush to the Goa Forward (GF) spelt the antim sanskar of the Congress party. For the Saturday following the week when the impending demise of the Congress in Goa will be a major setback for the secular forces in the state. For a Saturday following the week when the victory of Manohar Parrikar seems assured, provided he manages to move the ‘Un’Lucky 7 out of Miramar beach.
MINI GENERAL ELECTION
AND a few stray thoughts on Goa being set for a mini general election. It was earlier presumed that only the Panjim Assembly seat and the Valpoi constituency will witness bye-elections as early as September. The Panjim assembly seat has fallen vacant because of the resignation of Sidharth Kuncalienker who makes way for his guru Manohar Parrikar. The Valpoi Assembly seat is also vacant as Vishwajit Rane, son of the senior-most Congress leader in the state, Pratap Singh Rane, resigned his Congress seat and is planning to contest on a BJP ticket. Vishwajit has already been rewarded by Manohar Parrikar with the Health and Agriculture Ministries.
It would now appear that there will be bye-elections not only in Valpoi and Panjim, but also in the four other seats controlled by Babush Monserrate. One of which is Santa Cruz, represented by Tony Fernandes who is willing to step down for Babush to contest. Never mind that Babush is insisting that since the people rejected him in the 2017 election he intends to stay home like a good boy and not involve himself in any toppling games. Nobody, of course, believes Babush who is not capable of being a good boy.
Contrary to the general impression, Babush has not joined the GF to ensure the victory of Parrikar in the bye-elections to the Panjim assembly seats. On the contrary Babush seems to have decided that his future lies with his old friend Vijai Sardesai. Babush has made it clear that he sees more of a future for himself in joining the Congress party and contesting the bye-election against Manohar Parrikar. At the same time Babush is aware that he cannot trust Manohar Parrikar either. In any case going by the way the BJP has treated the former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, the Sangh Parivar will never allow a Catholic to become the chief minister of Goa, which is the ultimate ambition of Babush. The Taleigao badshah is tired of being the king-maker and this time around wants to be the king.
BABUSH has joined the GF as he believes it has the potential of becoming a third alternative to the Congress and the BJP. With the present strength of just three MLAs, GF does not pose a threat to Manohar Parrikar. Never mind the claim of Dr Chella Kumar that Vijai tried to topple the BJP government when Parrikar went to the United States for a private visit for a week. Babush will probably ask all the MLAs whom he financed to win the 2017 elections on the Congress ticket to resign and re-contest on the GF ticket. Babush is obviously confidant that he can get them re-elected even on the GF ticket. Which is why we expect not just a mini bye-election in two constituencies, but a mini general election.
We expect Tony of Santa Cruz, Silveira of St Andre, Isadore of Canacona and biwi Jennifer from Taleigao, who were all elected on the Congress ticket to resign and re-contest on the GF ticket. Of the five member Babush group, the Santa Cruz MLA was the only one who contested the 2017 election on the United Goans ticket because the Congress had refused to give him a ticket.
The excuse of the former GPCC President Luizinho Faleiro was that the Congress could not give a ticket to a person who was expelled for defying the party and putting up a panel against the official Congress panel in elections to the CCP. If the four Congress MLAs owing allegiance to Babush quit and re-contest on the GF ticket there will be elections not just in two constituencies but in six constituencies. We would not be surprised if Vishwajit Rane also decides to contest on the GF ticket rather than the BJP ticket. Since senior Rane has shifted his loyalty and voted for the BJP candidate in the presidential election he may also follow his son’s example and resign his Congress seat to contest on the GF ticket.
In the game of numbers if the Babush group and the Ranes join the GF and get re-elected on the GF ticket, the strength of the GF will increase from the present three to nine. As a group of nine they will have much more control over the coalition government and can make Parrikar dance to their tune.
The BJP has only a small majority of one, even with a support of the MGP and the Independents because the party won only 13 seats in the 2017 election. If the new nine-member GF withdraws support to the BJP, the Parrikar government will collapse. The GF may even be able to form a new government by asking the seven Catholic MLAs who got elected on the BJP ticket to join the so called Goenkarponn party. So Parrikar should not be complacent over Babush deciding not to contest against him in Panjim. His decision to join hands with Vijai is a greater threat to the BJP government then the risk that Parrikar may lose the Panjim seat to Babush.
ACTION REPLAY 2002
AND a few stray thoughts on the unfolding drama being an action replay of what happen in 2002, when Parrikar returned to the chief minister’s post with the help of Babush and Mickky. In the 2002 elections the BJP did not get even a simple majority. Parrikar persuaded the Dhavalikar brothers to extend support to BJP. But this was not enough to form the government. He offered the Town & Country Planning portfolio to Babush to bribe him to support the BJP. But since he was not confident that Babush would not ditch him he persuaded him to quit his Congress seat and re-contest on the BJP ticket.
This was necessary as the anti-defection act had been amended to plug loop holes which permitted one-third of the members of the political party to defect without incurring disqualification. Under the amendment an elected MLA (except for an Independent) who wanted to shift his loyalty to a party from which he had not been elected had to resign his seat and re-contest on the symbol of the party that he wanted to join. Those were the days when Babush was very close to Manohar Parrikar and he was willing to do anything to ensure his survival as chief minister.
Babush quit his seat which he had contested on the UGDP ticket and got himself elected as the BJP candidate from Taleigao in the bye-election. He was so much in love with Parrikar that he persuaded Pandurang Madkaikar and Isadore Fernandes who had been elected on Congress tickets to resign and re-contest on the BJP ticket. The money power of Babush ensured that Madkaikar and Isadore also won the bye-election on the lotus symbol.
Unfortunately for Parrikar, Babush felt that he had not been rewarded for his loyalty, and withdrew support to Parrikar in 2006, bringing down the BJP government. Babush promptly offered to join the Congress which was willing to welcome him. But at the last moment again in 2017 he decided to contest on the UGDP ticket, missing a berth in the cabinet.
Ironically Digambar who had betrayed Parrikar in 2006 joined the Congress and became the chief minister after the 2007 election. What Babush is trying to do now is an action replay of what he did in 2002 for his then friend Parrikar. This time he is doing it not for Parrikar but for Vijai Sardesai.
END OF THE ROAD?
AND a few stray thoughts on why Babush deserting the Congress could a mark the eclipse of the party in the state. Unexpectedly the Congress managed to win 17 of the 40 seats in 2017, against the nine seats it secured in the 2012 election. The Congress or at least the Digambar group had an understanding with Vijai Sardesai on the sharing of seats and a post-election alliance. The understanding included the Independent candidate from Porvorim Rohan Khaunte.
At the last moment the GPCC President Luizinho Faleiro sabotaged the alliance with GF by putting up Congress candidates even in Fatorda which was to be left for Vijai Sardesai. The GF had also claimed the Saligao, Siolim and the Velim seats. When the results were announced it was found that all three of the GF candidates opposed by Falerio had won the elections as well as the independent candidate from Porvorim, Rohan Khaunte. So much so, the Congress could have easily formed the government as with their 17 seats, the three seats won by GF and the seats of Rohan and Churchill, they had a clear majority.
When cats fight, it is the monkey which benefits. The GF insisted that they would only accept Digambar Kamat as the chief minister. Luizinho Faleiro was equally adamant and staked his claim to the chief minister’s post. Though it was pointed out to Rahul Gandhi who was taking the decisions in the absence of Sonia Gandhi (who has gone abroad for treatment) that the Congress would lose the chance of forming the government, the prince could not or would not decide. In the meanwhile Amit Shah sent Nitin Gadkari to Goa allegedly with pots of cash and struck a deal with Vijai Sardesai for his support to a BJP government led by Manohar Parrikar even though the party had won only 13 of the 40 seats in the assembly.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
IT IS clear that the Congress has not learned any lesson from the act of the BJP hijacking the government from under their nose. As expected, following the resignation of Luizinho Faleiro for his failure to form the government, they again played safe. They opted for veteran Shantaran Naik to succeed Faleiro instead of choosing younger leaders like Girish Chodankar or Reginald Laurence. Shantaram Naik does not command any respect in the Congress party. He does not have a mass base like Digambar Kamat or Luizinho Faleiro or even senior Rane. Shantaram Naik has been a member of the Rajya Sabha and not the popularly elected Lok Sabha.
The ineffectiveness of Shantaram was dramatised during the presidential election. Though the Congress won 17 seats, Vishwajit gave up his Congress seat to become a minister in the Parrikar cabinet. So the numbers of the Congress reduced to 16. With a new president in place, the official Congress candidate for the president’s post, Meira Kumar should have got all the 16 Congress votes. But the Congress candidate got only 11 of the 38 seats in the Assembly for its presidential candidate. Which meant that five of the Congress MLAs voted for the BJP. This included senior Rane who claimed that inspite of having been an MLA for more than 30 years he got confused and voted for the BJP by mistake.
Now it is clear that the conspiracy by Babush to join the GF was hatched before the Presidential election and that his chamchas were the Congress MLAs who defied the Congress and voted for the BJP presidential candidate.
THE act of Babush joining GF will be disastrous for the Congress. The Congress observer Chella Kumar, who succeeded Digvijay Singh, was relying on Babush to save the Congress. He was hoping that Babush would accept the invitation from the Congress to contest against Manohar Parrikar from Panjim. Babush had also announced that he had agreed to contest against Parrikar from Panjim. Obviously the cross voting in the Presidential poll and the continued confusion at the Congress High Command over Rahul Gandhi becoming the party president has convinced Babush that he cannot depend on the Congress.
The Congress is a sunset party. It made more sense to join a sunrise party like the GF where his contribution was more likely to be appreciated and rewarded. So now we know why the strong man from the Taleigao has decided to join the Judas from Fatorda. But given Vijai Sardesai’s U turn on several issues, nobody trusts him. If offered the chief minister’s post Vijai Sardesai may even decide to join the BJP, leaving Manohar Parrikar to return to his job as the Raksha Mantri.
And a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. With Babush out of the race, Parrikar should have no difficulty in winning the Panjim seat. He has to win the Panjim seats before September 15 if he wants to remain the chief minister. This is because while non-elected members can become ministers or even chief ministers, they have to get elected to the Legislative Assembly within six months. At present Manohar Parrikar is not even an MLA. On the contrary Manohar Parrikar at present is a Rajya Sabha MP representing Lucknow in UP. In fact he voted in the presidential election as a Rajya Sabha member.
THE only opposition to Parrikar, seems to be the candidate proposed by the Goa Suraksha Manch which was formed as a protest against the extension of grants to Catholic English medium schools by Parrikar. The Congress does not have a credible candidate who will even retain his deposit. The only thing that may go against Parrikar is the Unlucky 7 which lies grounded on the Miramar beach reminding voters how he sold the Mandovi River to the casinos. Parrikar will also have to get rid of the garbage which reminds people of his failure to provide a garbage dump and a waste treatment plant in the constituency that has elected him six times, though he boasts of a state-of-the-art waste treatment plant at Saligao.