Congress in dire straits: After Gujarat, party may see defections in Goa as bypolls near

Like the wicked tiger Shere Khan in Jungle Book, the Congress refuses to learn lessons.

Possessed with an overpowering desire to kill Mowgli but with no feasible plan, Shere Khan finally dies a horrible death in a wildfire. Obsessed with routing the BJP in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, but equipped with no meaningful strategy, the Congress appears to be working towards its own end in state after state. Goa is a classic example.

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi . Reuters

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi . Reuters

After its historic goof-up in missing the chance to form the government in Goa, despite emerging as the single-largest party in the February assembly elections, it has slipped into a political abyss deeper than before.  

Since then, it has seen four of its MLAs cross vote for the NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind and has lost a Rajya Sabha seat.

And even as the 23 August by-elections to two assembly seats, Panaji and Valpoi, near, the grapevine has it that some five Congress MLAs, of the total of 16, may desert the party and get on board either the ruling BJP or its allies.

For the upcoming bypolls, the Congress has barely managed to even find a candidate for Panaji, where Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar will seek election to the Assembly. It seems that nobody was terribly interested in fighting the Panaji seat on a Congress ticket — leader after leader politely refused the party’s offer — till at last the choice fell on vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s chum and AICC secretary Girish Chodankar on Wednesday.

The Panaji seat fell vacant after BJP’s Siddharth Kuncolienkar, who was elected from there in February, quit the seat to facilitate Parrikar’s entry into Assembly. Valpoi will have a by-election because Vishwajit Rane, who won from there on a Congress ticket, resigned to join the BJP and become Parrikar’s health minister. He will seek re-election on BJP ticket and face Congress candidate Roy Ravi Naik, son of a former minister.

Congress working for Congress-mukt Bharat?

To understand the continuing goof-ups that plague the Congress across India, one only needs to take a close look at Goa, the country’s smallest state — it’s just as big as Maharashtra’s Bhandara district (3,700 sq km) and has as much population as Thane town (18 lakh).

It looks as if Narendra Modi’s best and most dependable ally in achieving his life-time goal of Congress-mukt Bharat is Congress itself. First, the party bungled in forming a government after the assembly poll results were announced in March, as state unit dilly-dallied — and Rahul Gandhi Delhi-dallied — in choosing alliance partners, while the BJP snatched up smaller parties and stole power.

In April, Gandhi came up with his characteristically simplistic solution: he stripped AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh of his Goa responsibility. Then in July, Gandhi replaced state party chief Luizinho Faleiro with 71-year-old former MP, Shantaram Naik. Soon after Naik’s appointment, four Congress MLAs cross-voted in the presidential election. Then Naik himself lost his Rajya Sabha election, gifting to the BJP its first-ever seat in the Upper House from Goa.

Congress bid to topple Parrikar fails

Undaunted, Gandhi apparently decided that the best way to teach Modi a lesson that he would never forget in his lifetime was to get rid of the Parrikar government. Last month, he ordered Naik to do the needful. Naik promptly asked a man called Atansio Monserrate to do the needful.

Monserrate’s colourful political career was marked by party-hopping at a dizzying speed and a string of criminal cases including extortion and rape. He became a lone wolf after the Congress expelled him in 2015 for helping the BJP in the Panaji by-election. Monserrate, a man with muscle and money power, agreed to get Parrikar ousted by "arranging" for the defection of three members of the Goa Forward Party (GFP), an ally of the BJP.

As part of what seemed like a buy-one-and-get-one-free arrangement, Monserrate also offered to be the Congress candidate in Panaji against Parrikar in the upcoming by-election. Gandhi and Naik heaved a collective sigh, convinced that they had straightened everything out. Everything indeed got straightened out—for the BJP.

Then Monserrate dealt a cruel blow to the Congress by announcing that he was joining the GFP and would campaign for Parrikar in Panaji! Leave alone toppling Parrikar, Naik had a desperate run-around before Chodankar’s candidature was finalised for the Panaji seat.

The reasons that led to the failure of the Congress in forming the government continue to bedevil the party: an inactive state unit and a rudderless high command led by a highly confused Rahul Gandhi.

Monseratte attributed his sudden volte face to the “non-serious” attitude of the Congress towards building the party. It was the same story at the time of government formation.

Though the BJP won only 13 seats in the February elections, against 17 of the Congress in the 40-member assembly, it crossed the halfway mark with 22 with support from three members each of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the GFP, and three Independents.

The MGP and GFP could have easily gone the Congress way.

The MGP competes for the same Hindu vote that BJP thrives on and would have indeed been more comfortable in the company of the Congress. And the GFP approached the Congress for an alliance both before and after the assembly elections. But the Congress leaders were undecided as well as divided over accepting help from the two parties and lost the opportunity to form the government.

Learning lessons from the past? Forget it.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 19:01 PM

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