Giving the BJP a jolt, its former minister, Mahadev Naik, rejoined the Congress on February 24 at a time when the ruling party is struggling to contain rebellion and is preparing for three crucial assembly bypolls as well.
Two of the bypolls are in the constituencies of former Congress MLAs Subhash Shirodkar (Shiroda) and Dilip Sopte (Mandrem) who switched to the BJP in October last year. The bypoll in Mapusa is due to the death of sitting BJP MLA Francis D’Souza on February 14.
Dissent has been brewing in the BJP for some time now with the party trying to save its minority government in the state at any cost, ignoring its loyal cadre and promoting turncoats. Party officials had sensed lethargy among the rank and file when, on February 9, only 15,000 booth-level workers, less than half the expected turnout, turned up at a meeting that was to be addressed by party chief Amit Shah. Like former CM Lakshmikant Parsekar, Naik, much before he defected from the BJP, had warned that he would work against the party if Sopte and Shirodkar were given tickets. Parsekar has said people want him to contest even if he does not get a BJP ticket. BJP’s Goa in-charge B.L. Santosh met Parsekar on February 25 to pacify him.
Supporting the dissent within the party, power minister Nilesh Cabral has said there’s no guarantee that people attending the party meeting will vote for the BJP. In a scathing attack on his government and referring to the opening of the third bridge on the Mandovi river in Panaji, which the BJP has been projecting as its showpiece of development, Cabral remarked that a bridge alone won’t help people make a living. Later, attempting damage control, he said, One thing is sure, I am going to vote for the BJP.
The BJP is also likely to find it tough to choose D’Souza’s successor, as at least three of its leaders, Sandeep Falari, Rupesh Kamat and Sudhir Kandolkarhave shown interest in contesting that seat. Of these three, only Kamat is considered close to CM Manohar Parrikar. There is also speculation on the nomination of D’Souza’s councillor son, Joshua, who reportedly has strong support among Catholics.
The bypolls may be held with the general election. If the BJP wins all three seats, its dependence on allies may end. If it loses, its government will become a minority in the House. The BJP has reason to worry, as alliance partner Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) has announced it will contest the bypolls alone. State MGP president Deepak Dhavalikar has already begun campaigning in Shiroda. The third partner of the alliance, the Goa Forward Party (GFP), has warned that the government will collapse if the MGP contests against the BJP. Housing minister Jayesh Salgaonkar of the GFP has said they have a plan ready in case the government loses its majority. Though he has not disclosed the plan, sources say the GFP will bring together all parties except the Congress and the MGP to back Parrikar as CM.
The Congress has been demanding Parrikar’s resignation citing his illness. The BJP is power hungry, says state Congress president Girish Chodankar. Had they not lured Shirodkar and Sopte, the bypoll would not have happened.