Goa Election 2017: Fissures exposed in Congress ranks as efforts for pre-poll alliance fail

Diggy Raja, as the Congress party national general secretary Digvijaya Singh is called by his cronies, was a worried man when he hurriedly took the evening flight from New Delhi for Goa, a state he is supposed to be in-charge of at the party’s central office. His discomfort was understandable as his diktat had been defied and the plot he had authored was threatening to go haywire.

Singh, much against the desire of the party’s state unit chief Luizinho Faleiro, had earlier announced that the Congress would contest only 36 of the 40 seats in the Goa State Legislative Assembly polls, while getting into a tactical understanding with the Goa Forward (GF). The seats, the party had decided against contesting, included Fatorda constituency of South Goa.

After hectic parleys lasting two days, Singh was seen cutting a sorry figure on Saturday when he announced in Panaji that the Congress would contest 37 seats without having any understanding with the GF. Pain was writ large on his face when he emphasised that the party was united, though Faleiro was absent when he made the announcement.

 Goa Election 2017: Fissures exposed in Congress ranks as efforts for pre-poll alliance fail

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. File photo. PTI

Fatorda could be just one constituency which may or may not count for much when the new government is formed in India’s smallest state in mid-March, but the Fatorda controversy has exposed chinks in the Congress armoury while indicating all may not be well with the faction-ridden party.

What is alarming for the party is that the Fatorda controversy suggests factionalism is very much prevalent in the party’s central office since Faleiro was supposed to be in constant touch with a senior leader in New Delhi when party’s Fatorda block president Joseph Silva filed his nomination and presented the mandatory Form B, duly signed by Faleiro, establishing his credentials as the official Congress party candidate from the constituency.

Singh had reasons to be miffed with Faleiro since he had decided to leave aside Fatorda seat for the incumbent independent state lawmaker and now GF mentor

who had preferred to lobby for the Congress support in New Delhi.

An annoyed Singh instructed the state unit to withdraw Form B issued to Silva which was duly complied with. Only Faleiro’s emissary reached the returning officer’s office after the process of filing of nominations had got over.

Singh tried to prevail upon Faleiro and the state unit to withdraw Silva’s candidature. Intense talks over the next two days made no headway as the state unit stuck to its condition of withdrawing Silva from the fray only if the GF withdrew its candidates from two other seats, namely Saligao and Velim in lieu of Fatorda, which was not acceptable to Serdesai and the GF. Faleiro remained undeterred and Silva in the fray when the last date for withdrawal elapsed on Saturday afternoon.

A peeved Serdesai, who was earlier accused by the Congress insiders of entering into a private deal with Singh to procure support, lost no time in charging Faleiro of being in cahoots with Goa’s ruling BJP and entering into a secret private deal with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar under which he would not be chargesheeted in a corruption case that was filed against him when Parrikar was the Goa chief minister.

Singh-Faleiro face-off was in the offing for some time, as they had taken divergent routes to reach the common goal to bringing the Congress party back to power in the coastal south-western state. While Faleiro was against the alliance, Singh advocated for it, especially with the GF. Also, while Faleiro wanted to replace old and failed leaders by giving chance to new young faces, Singh was opposed to denying party nominations to the old guard. This was also due to the fact that they draw their respective strengths from two top most individuals of the party.

While Singh is supposed to be part of a coterie around Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Falerio is supposed to be close to Rahul’s mother and the party’s national president Sonia Gandhi. The coterie around Rahul is being blamed for trying to create fissures between the mother and son and hasten the process of installing Rahul as the new Congress president in place of Sonia, who is not keeping well for some time now. The change at the top is inevitable, but the hurry of the coterie around Rahul is questionable.

This coterie is also being blamed for Rahul’s decision to move out of his mother’s bungalow at 10 Janpath and move into his own Tughlak Lane bungalow which he has used in the past as his office.

It is not that unlike son Rahul, mother Sonia is not surrounded by a coterie and takes her decisions independently. The coterie around Sonia is, however, not prepared to let her handover the reigns of the party to Rahul yet, fearing they would be shunted out from their key posts. It is no secrets in the political circle that the younger Gandhi differs over roles of the Sonia coterie in the future setup of the party.

The coterie politics which has been in existence since the days of Indira Gandhi and considered a bane for the party, leading to its sharp decline. However, existence of two coteries and with both working at cross purposes may come into the way of Rahul's desire to rebuild the party and make it fighting fit for the 2019 General Elections where he is likely to be pitched once again against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The ugly factional fight that reared its head in Goa to potentially undermine its prospects when the state goes to polls on 4 February may just be a pointer towards the troubles brewing within the 131-year-old party, trying to find its foothold in Indian politics yet again.

Updated Date: Jan 22, 2017 20:02:54 IST