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August 21, 2000
Why Goa continues to be plagued by defections
Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panjim
Can the Congress in Goa bring back its glory of two long decades and rule the state once again without readmitting a major chunk of defectors, who are hobnobbing with ideological rivals like the Bharatiya Janata Party?
Opinion within the Congress is divided among its four factions. The strength of the 'original' Congress, which emerged as the single largest party with an absolute majority of 21 seats in a 40-member House during the assembly polls in June last year, has now been reduced to 10.
The Congress victory was significant as Goa had elected a hung assembly twice before, providing an opportunity for horse-trading. After coming to power in June last year, then chief minister Luizinho Faleiro engineered further defections in the MGP, UGDP and Nationalist Congress Party, to 'strengthen' the hands of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
This included former Union minister Ramakant Khalap and his senior colleague Prakash Velip from the MGP, both UGDP legislators Suresh Parulekar and Jose Philip D'Souza and the NCP's Francisco D'Souza. This had swollen the Congress ranks to a brute majority of 26.
D'Souza then split away once again within a week, with 10 colleagues led by chief minister Francisco Sardinha of the Goa People's Congress, to form the present ruling coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, while reducing the Congress to a minority of 15.
Parulekar, D'Souza and Velip are among the five defectors who split last week, reducing the Congress to 10 (including Speaker Pratapsing Rane, who is supporting Sardinha). The splinter group calls itself the Congress (Shaikh Hassan group). The fourth group is led by Wilfred de Souza, the sole legislator of the NCP.
de Souza had split the ruling Congress in 1998, forming the Goa Rajiv Congress. After running a coalition government with the BJP for only four months, he was toppled by defector colleagues, bringing the Congress back to power in November. The 'political carnival' ended with the imposition of President's rule by February last year, while de Souza's GRC merged into the NCP last year.
"I do not rule out the possibility of the Congress returning to power," said de Souza, who feels that the high command could simply decide to readmit all 16 defectors and allow Sardinha to continue, by fulfilling the common demand of all defectors - removal of the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee chief Luizinho Faleiro.
Claiming that they (his and Sardinha's group) are the real Congress, Shaikh came down heavily on Faleiro, Congress Legislature Party leader Ravi Naik and All India Congress Committee general secretary Prabha Rao, in-charge of Goa. "She literally threatened us to leave, but not to drop Faleiro, when we met her in Bombay," he recalled, alleging that the high command did not take measures to unite the party.
In fact, arch rival Faleiro has proved to be the real strength of Sardinha. "As long as he remains PCC chief, more will leave the party," stated Shaikh. But, Faleiro claimed that his organisation has remained intact despite splits, while the CLP is getting cleaned up of all selfish elements.
There was a time when the Congress was strengthened by splitting the then opposition Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party umpteen times since 1977, till the BJP took over the MGP's vote-bank. Some also left the Congress, obviously to become chief minister or ministers and then returned to the party fold.
While the trend has started reversing, CLP spokesman Jitendra Deshprabhu felt that they would once again try and return since the "Congress is the only loved party of the Goan masses".
He admitted that embracing defectors was a major mistake by the leadership, and opposed a repeat of that.
Former Goa PCC chief Shantaram Naik pointed out that the fault laid in neglecting the organisational base and cadres. "Instead of running behind these leaders, party observers should talk more to district and block level people to know our weaknesses," he suggested.
Though Deshprabhu calls it a party of the masses, year-old defector to the Congress Ramakant Khalap felt the problem was in having too many leaders, with everyone trying to seek a position. "Let more people go if they want to. Who can stop them," asked CLP leader Naik.
While the party is weakening day by day, Naik and Faleiro are busy passing the buck over responsibility for the split. According to Faleiro, the defectors had asked the CLP leader to arrange for money to repay loans they had taken to contest elections. Naik expressed ignorance over any such demand.
"Even a five-year-old child will tell you why they left the party," said Faleiro. The reason for defections is no more a secret in Goa, including those engineered by Faleiro - thrice during his five-month term last year or when he engineered a split in de Souza's group in November 1998.
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