A Game of Num­bers

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Ki­ran D. Tare

On Oc­to­ber 15, when the Congress Leg­is­la­ture Party held its meet­ing in Panaji to urge Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind to en­sure the as­sem­bly was not dis­solved by ‘foul play’, two of its MLAs, Sub­hash Shi­rod­kar and Dayanand Sopte, backed the de­ci­sion. Leader of Op­po­si­tion Chan­drakant ‘Babu’ Kavalekar even claimed af­ter the meet­ing that the party had the num­bers to prove its ma­jor­ity in a floor test. The very next day, Shi­rod­kar and Sopte shat­tered the Congress’s Goa dream by join­ing the BJP. As­sem­bly Speaker Pramod Sawant ac­cepted their res­ig­na­tions within hours.

Pol­i­tics in this tiny state has taken an in­ter­est­ing turn since. The Congress’s strength is now 14, equal to the BJP’s, in the 40-mem­ber House. As two seats have fallen va­cant and BJP MLA Pan­durang Mad­kaikar is in a coma, there will be 37 mem­bers in case a floor test is held. The BJP has

the back­ing of three MLAs each from the Ma­ha­rash­trawadi Go­man­tak Party (MGP) and Goa For­ward Party (GFP) as well as three in­de­pen­dents. So even if the two ail­ing BJP mem­bers— Chief Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar and Fran­cis D’Souza— do not turn up for the floor test, the party can win with the help of th­ese nine MLAs.

How­ever, clashes be­tween the MGP and the

GFP are bound to take place in case there is a change in lead­er­ship. Par­rikar’s re­turn to Goa on a stretcher, af­ter dis­charge from Delhi’s AIIMS hos­pi­tal, has left many in the state shaken. That MGP’s Sudin Dhava­likar and GFP’s Vi­jai Sarde­sai want the CM’s chair is no se­cret. Sarde­sai, who leads a group of six MLAs, has re­port­edly of­fered to merge his party with the BJP if he is given the CM’s post. “The gov­ern­ment should com­plete its term with or with­out Par­rikar. Amit Shah had promised me that there won’t be a midterm poll. The BJP should keep its promise. Peo­ple are watch­ing,” he says.

Dhava­likar’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha is a ma­jor road­block to his chief min­is­te­rial am­bi­tion. In spite of the re­port that Dhava­likar met Congress lead­ers in Delhi, the party is likely to main­tain a dis­tance from him in the wake of in­dia to­day tv’s sting op­er­a­tion that caught two Sanatan Sanstha mem­bers ad­mit­ting their role in keep­ing ex­plo­sives out­side a Navi Mum­bai the­atre a decade ago. Dhava­likar is not likely to snap ties with the BJP ei­ther, even if the party over­looks his am­bi­tions, as he wants to keep his pub­lic works de­part­ment.

All is not well in the BJP ei­ther. Up­set with the top lead­er­ship ig­nor­ing them, Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo and MLA Ra­jesh Pat­nekar have ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion and hinted that only cab­i­net berths can pacify them.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers point out that only Par­rikar can en­sure that the BJP stays united. In such a sce­nario, Shah has two op­tions: first, as claimed by Sopte, poach more Congress MLAs, and the sec­ond, merge smaller par­ties with the BJP.

Mean­while, the Congress is strug­gling to save its face, hav­ing lost its sec­ond op­por­tu­nity in one-and-a-half years. “It was not ex­pected from Shi­rod­kar and Sopte,” laments Congress in-charge S. Chel­laku­mar.

‘RUN­AWAY LAW­MAK­ERS’ Shi­rod­kar (sec­ond from left) and Sopte joined the BJP in Delhi on Oct. 16

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