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What went wrong for the Congress in Goa

File photo of Manohar Parrikar. Photograph: (AFP)

WION Delhi, India Mar 17, 2017, 07.03 AM (IST) Rajesh Singh

The Congress is finding it difficult to swallow the reality that it has been outfoxed in Goa, despite emerging as the single largest party in the recently held assembly election.

Even as it was celebrating its win, the Bharatiya Janata Party cobbled an alliance that secured a majority in the 40-member House. The Congress’s last ditch appeal to the Supreme Court also failed to stop the formation of a BJP-led government. Even as it continued to hurl accusations, the new government won the floor test too.

As if this was not trouble enough for the Congress, there is a revolt brewing within the party. Senior leader and newly elected MLA Vishwajit Rane has quit the party and his Goa Assembly membership in disgust. It’s expected that more could follow.

The central leadership of the Congress party ought to have cracked the whip and asked Faleiro to step aside in the larger interests of the party, but it did not
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What went wrong for the Congress? At least two things.

To begin with, Congress demonstrated shocking lethargy in the face of a hung House. As the single largest party, it should have moved swiftly to stitch a coalition and approach the governor with enhanced numbers. It ought to have shown flexibility-- bend like a willow in the wind and not stood like an obstinate oak, as a party leader remarked. The Goa Forward Party, with three legislators, was willing to do business with the Congress provided state party chief Luzinho Faleiro opted out of the chief ministerial race. The GFP leader Vijay Sardesai and Faleiro do not see eye to eye but Faleiro refused to oblige.

The second mistake was that of the Congress high command led by Rahul Gandhi. It provided no sense of urgency or purpose to its state unit. The central leadership of the Congress party ought to have cracked the whip and asked Faleiro to step aside in the larger interests of the party, but it did not. As a result, veteran Congressman Digvijaya Singh - the party's nominee to firefight the challenge - was fettered in taking on-the-spot decisions. He had only to win over the GFP and get its three MLAs on board, and the government would have been its for the asking. There was no need to woo the Independents even.

In contrast, the BJP had a tougher task, given its low figures.

 

The Supreme Court’s dismissal of Congress's plea should have ended the talk of any constitutional wrongdoing on the governor’s part in inviting the BJP-led combination to form the government
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The party had to get the support of the GFP, the Independents and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party. That it managed to get them all to its side, demonstrates a political adroitness which was missing in the Congress. The BJP did not dither for a moment once the GFP and the MGP made it known that they would extend support only if Manohar Parrikar were to become the chief minister. Parrikar was asked to resign as the country’s defence minister and take charge in Goa.

Now outmanoeuvred, the Congress has been crying foul. It sought to raise the issue of ethics, constitutional propriety, and of money power. The Supreme Court’s dismissal of Congress's plea should have ended the talk of any constitutional wrongdoing on the governor’s part in inviting the BJP-led combination to form the government. The apex court’s telling remarks expose the Congress’s weak defence. The court asked: If the Congress had the numbers, why did it then not approach the governor and lay its claim? The judges pointed out that the party’s petition before them did not even mention the magic figure or implead Parrikar.

The Congress is on weak grounds on the matter of ethics too. In 2002, the National Conference had bigger numbers in Jammu & Kashmir, but the Congress teamed up with the Peoples Democratic Party to form the government. In 2005, the BJP was the single largest party in Jharkhand, but the Congress teamed up with Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to form the government. In 2013, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Delhi Assembly election, but the Congress extended support to the Aam Aadmi Party and helped it form the government.

The Congress in Goa now faces a period of turmoil. Even an MLA from its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, backed the BJP-led regime during the trust vote on Thursday. Vishwajit Rane’s plans are unclear, but he may well join the BJP or float an outfit that aligns with the BJP. His father, Pratapsinh Rane, is a veteran Congressman and former chief minister. The factions led by the senior Rane and Faleiro are at loggerheads, and for the moment it appears that the latter is on the blackfoot, since many believe his intransigence has led to the party’s humiliation.

It is ironical that the 2017 verdict, which should have led to the revival of the Congress in Goa, has proved to be undoing.

The ruling BJP had slipped to 13 seats from the 21 it had won in 2012, and this was a clear thumbs down from the electorate. The reasons for the loss are many, but two factors are primary. The first is the absence of Parrikar from the helm. It is true that even after shifting to Delhi, Parrikar had kept himself connected with the politics of Goa, but a hand on approach was naturally not possible. He commands an across-the-party connect and has excellent relations with several players in the field. For instance, his personal equations with Vijay Sardesai swung the GFP to the BJP’s side. The MGP, which broke away from the BJP alliance and contested the election on its own, came around to supporting the BJP once it became known that Parrikar would head the government.

The second cause of the BJP’s relatively poor performance was the failure of Laxmikant Parsekar to provide effective leadership. Parsekar took over as chief minister after Parrikar shifted to Delhi as defence minister, but he simply did not have the acumen of his predecessor. The revolt by a section of the RSS in the State, which happened with senior RSS leader Subhash Velingkar forming his own outfit, may have been directed against Parrikar, but it was for Parsekar to tackle it; he failed. There had been murmurs when Parsekar was named the new chief minister, with many within the party of the belief that Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’ Souza ought to have assumed the mantle.

But all of that is past now. Parrikar has the challenge to reinvigorate the party, balance the demands and counter demands of his coalition partners who hold the key to the Government’s survival, and do his bit to exploit the fissures in the Congress. All this, while providing good governance in the run-up to the 2019 general election.

Rajesh Singh

Rajesh Singh is senior political commentator and analyst.

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