Congress appeared to have everything served to it on a platter in Goa — it had emerged the single largest party in the hung 40-member Goa legislative Assembly by winning 17 seats, and Goa Front (GF), Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and three Independents, who accounted for 10 seats between them, were all waiting to be approached.
They were like newlywed brides, all dressed up but nowhere to go. They waited for two days, and were glad when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came around to woo them.
BJP, rejected by Goa voters and a poor second behind Congress in the Assembly with just 13 seats, managed to stage a political coup — staked claim, formed the government, and successfully proved its majority, virtually bolting the door on Congress' aspirations and hopes of snatching away a BJP-ruled state.
Digvijaya Singh, Congress general secretary and the party's in-charge for Goa, emerged villain in the tale, accepting flak from both within and outside for remaining indecisive and gifting Goa to BJP, so much so that Manohar Parrikar, who quit as defence minister to become Goa chief minister, loses no opportunity of taking a jibe at the hapless Singh, terming him of being in Goa as a "tourist", when the time was for him to move, and move swiftly.
However, is Singh alone to be blamed for the disaster? Lack of foresight, no advance planning, and a centralised decision making process are actually to be blamed for the Goa debacle.
According to sources in the Goa Congress Pradesh Committee (GPCC), Singh did act and even called up Rahul Gandhi on 14 March when results were declared, informing the party vice-president of the ground situation and seeking his approval to nominate former chief minister Digambar Kamat as the legislative party leader.
Goa Forward, which had won three seats, had made it amply clear that it would extend its support to Congress only if Kamat was named chief minister. MGP had no issues since it has been part of governments in Goa for 17 years, irrespective of which party or individual was at the helm.
It is learnt that Gandhi promised to get back to Singh within two hours, but instead took two days, before informing him that a corruption-tainted Kamat was unacceptable to him. Instead, Gandhi suggested going in for a new face, as there was lack of unanimity over the candidatures of Pratapsingh Rane, Luizinho Faleiro and Ravi Naik — all former chief ministers.
It was too late by the time Congress elected Quepem MLA Chandrakant Kavlekar as its legislative party leader; by then, BJP had already staked its claim and even procured an invitation to form the government.
Congress' last ditch effort to move the Supreme Court and get the first chance to form government also failed, as they did not have letters of support from any of the 23 remaining MLAs outside its ranks. Contrast this with BJP, which was well prepared and had planned in advance about what to do if it failed to win a majority.
BJP was also clear that only Parrikar's return would enable it to cobble up a post-poll alliance, since he had the political acumen, contacts, reputation, and above all, experience of heading coalition governments in the past. Parrikar was already stationed in Goa while Union minister Nitin Gadkari, BJP's Goa in-charge, was also rushed to the state as soon as it became clear that a hung Assembly was about to be elected.
The rest is history — BJP formed its government, proved its majority, and even dented Congress further by getting its MLA Vishwajit Rane to walk out during an ensuing floor test. Rane subsequently quit the Congress party and joined BJP. He has been duly rewarded with a Cabinet berth.
The Goa experience does indicate the rot that has set into the Congress party. Gandhi, who is expected to be elected as party president in place of his ailing mother Sonia Gandhi before the year ends, is not known for being decisive. Moreover, he probably found his hands tied, since he had promised a strong anti-corruption message twice in his rallies in the run-up to the election in Goa. And Kamat is known not for being a clean leader but for his political acumen.
But the point is — was the Congress party in general, and Gandhi in particular, prepared for this eventuality? Why did it take Gandhi two days to reject Kamat? Why hadn't he thought about an alternative name in advance? The answer is clear and simple: The party and its leaders had lost Goa even before the first beep was heard on the electronic voting machine on 4 February, the day of polling.
At the same time, it also suggests how detached the Congress party has become from ground realities, as it probably had no feedback mechanism to prepare itself, considering the gap between voting and counting of votes was a good 35 days.
But it is to be expected from a leader who, despite being is a Member of Parliament for 13 years, is still learning the ropes; meanwhile, an already marginalised party is facing threats of becoming extinct. The Gandhis will remain insulated from any blame so long as there are leaders like Digvijaya Singh to shield them, while BJP's avowed aim of making India Congress-mukt becomes a closer reality with each state going their way.
Published Date: Apr 20, 2017 08:50 AM | Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 08:50 AM