In another setback for the Congress, 10 of its 15 lawmakers in Goa on Wednesday defected to the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). State assembly speaker Rajesh Patnekar accepted their request to merge their group with the BJP. The Congress is already grappling with a crisis in Karnataka triggered by its MLAs resigning, throwing the HD Kumaraswamy government into a massive crisis.
“Ten Congress MLAs [members of legislative assembly] have merged with the BJP. The CM [chief minister Pramod Sawant] has also informed this office that the strength of the BJP in the [40-member] state assembly has increased to 27. I have accepted both the requests,” Patnekar said.
Chandrakant Kavlekar, the leader of Opposition in the Assembly, is among the Congress lawmakers, who defected.
The 10 MLAs account for two-thirds of the Congress’s strength in the assembly. The strength is required to avoid disqualifications under the anti-defection law. The law allows defections only if the lawmakers joining a party are two-thirds or more of another party’s strength.
Kavlekar said that the 10 were forced to join the ruling party as they were frustrated in the opposition. “We have been in the opposition for so long. And to continue in the opposition at the cost of development in our constituencies was not possible. We have joined to strengthen the hand of the chief minister as well as to ensure development in our constituencies,” Kavlekar said.
Sawant said the BJP’s high command has okayed the merger and all newly-inducted lawmakers were expected to leave for New Delhi on Thursday to meet BJP’s national president Amit Shah. “We have not taken any decision of changes in the ministry as of now. This has been done to strengthen the BJP. This government is unitedly a BJP government for the people of Goa,” he said.
The 10 are Chandrakant Kavlekar, Isidore Fernandes, Francis Silveira, Filipe Neri Rodrigues, Jennifer, Atanasio Monserrate, Antonio Fernandes, Nilakanth Halarnkar, Clafacio Dias and Wilfred D’Sa.
Digambar Kamat, Luzinho Faleiro, Ravi Naik, Pratapsingh Rane, all of whom have served as chief ministers, are now the Congress members left in the assembly along with Aliexo Reginaldo.
The Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the 2017 Goa elections. But it was unable to form the government. The BJP, which got only 13 seats, formed the government in coalition with the Goa Forward Party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and three independents. They agreed to support the BJP on the condition that then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar returns to Goa as chief minister.
After Parrikar took ill and his condition deteriorated, the BJP began weaning away lawmakers from the Congress to keep its government afloat. The Congress’s hopes of forming the government by winning the recently concluded by-polls to four assembly seats were dashed. It was able to win only one seat. The BJP won the remaining three.
“This move may bring stability… Everyone is aspiring for ministership and we will see how this plays out. But stability is not everything. One cannot make mincemeat of the mandate in the name of stability,” said Cleofato Almeida Coutinho, a political analyst.