United we Fall…

By Ashwin Tombat
24 March 2019 20:09 IST

Former Chief Minister and Congress MLA Luizinho Faleiro recently stoked controversy by alleging that the party’s leader Digvijay Singh, who was the Goa in-charge of the Congress during the 2017 state Assembly polls, did not allow him to hand over a letter to the Governor staking claim to form a government in the state.

“After the last election… that night when the general secretary Mr Digvijay Singh did not allow me to hand over the letter to the Governor for the formation of the Congress government… I as a protest resigned from the PCC… and refused to be Leader of the Opposition,” Mr Faleiro said. He was speaking at the inaugural function of a road in his constituency, Navelim.

Public memory is short, but most of our readers will surely remember that in the March 2017 Goa State Assembly election, the Congress had won 17 seats, while the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won just 13.

Despite being the single largest party, which made it the frontrunner to claim a majority in the 40-member Assembly, it was the BJP which got the support of the MGP (3 MLAs), Goa Forward (3 MLAs) and two independents, managed to cobble a majority together and formed the government under Manohar Parrikar.

Luizinho’s accusations — though prominently reported in the national media — have fallen on deaf ears within his party. Digvijay Singh has refused to respond. Goa Congress Party Chief Girish Chodankar, who otherwise has a strong opinion on most issues, is also mum. He says he was “not in the picture” at the time. The ‘High Command’ has not reacted.

Is Mr Faleiro’s statement true?

Possibly. At the time, Digvijay Singh had complained that Goa Governor Mridula Sinha did not invite the Congress to form a government in the state despite the party giving her a letter seeking an appointment to stake a claim. 

But the Congress Party’s Petition in the Supreme Court was rejected on the grounds that it neither furnished a list of MLAs it claimed to have support of in its petition, nor did it make any representation in this regard to the Governor. “Where were you (Congress) when Manohar Parrikar claimed the support of other parties? Why didn’t you inform the Governor that these parties were supporting you and not the BJP?” the three-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice J S Khehar asked.

Mr Digvijay Singh’s star has since fallen precipitously. Shortly after the Goa fiasco, he was unceremoniously divested of most party responsibilities. In the recent elections in his home state of Madhya Pradesh, he was asked not to campaign outside his strongholds and to refrain from too much public engagement.

So why is Mr Faleiro saying this now?

Goa’s politics is presently at a very fragile juncture. Despite triggering three defections from the Congress, the BJP’s MLA count reduced to 13 after the death of former Deputy CM Francis D Souza. The Congress now has 14 MLAs; once more the single largest party in the Assembly. If the BJP loses the coming Lok Sabha election, this government could collapse like a house of cards.

There are whispers that the Congress High Command may give the South Goa Lok Sabha ticket to Mr Faleiro in the coming Parliamentary elections. Quite possibly, he doesn’t relish the prospect of being away in New Delhi when there’s so much opportunity in Goa…

Digvijay Singh may have been punished for the Goa fiasco, but we all know it cannot all have been his doing. The Congress had too many MLAs who wanted to become the Chief Minister. They squabbled, wasting precious time. The BJP, meanwhile, was making friends and influencing smaller parties. As former CM Digambar Kamat said at the time, “It appears we took too much time to decide.”

If one goes by Mr Faleiro’s recent outburst, little has changed. United it may be, but the Congress still finds it hard to stand together.

(Originally published on Sunday 24 February 2019, in 'Lokmat')

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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