The BJP is no longer dependent on ambitious allies and is taking its time to deliberate on a possible cabinet reshuffle. Amid speculations that they may be axed, four current ministers — three from alliance partner Goa Forward Party and one independent — have reportedly stopped going to their office at the state secretariat since Wednesday.
While their fate hangs in balance, GFP supremo Vijai Sardessai pointedly sent a message to media outlets that the events were out of his control, and not caused by any instability in the coalition. He asserted that he had not been conveyed any decision, though clearly the numbers were not in his favour.
“A few years ago, they had asked me to join the Congress government. When I refused, they told me they will themselves merge with the BJP and oust me. (Manohar) Parrikar had not paid any heed to them. I don’t know why the BJP has taken them now. There was no instability. There was no need to do this,” Sardessai was quoted saying by News18.
His candid comments reveal the ideologically agnostic race for power that has underpinned Goa’s electoral politics, more so when there’s a hung verdict.
In the 2017 assembly polls, a hung assembly had emerged, with Congress winning 17 and BJP 13 seats. But the BJP cobbled together a coalition quickly.
Since the 2017 result, the Congress has lost 13 legislators to the BJP, three in earlier staggered defections. Health minister Vishwajit Rane resigned and crossed sides shortly after Congress was unable to form a government despite being the single largest party. Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar followed in 2018.
Trouble began for the Congress shortly after the 2019 Lok Sabha election when the BJP returned to power at the Centre and also won three of the four Goa by-election seats. This effectively dashed the hopes of the Goa Congress of upping its numbers and making a bid for the state government. In June, state party President Girish Chodankar accused the BJP of offering MLAs inducements to cross sides, while the BJP retorted that ten opposition MLAs had approached them, offering support, but it was not interested.
“I think a combination of several factors led to the BJP’s sudden move to induct them now. They wanted to demoralise the Congress in Karnataka and nationwide. It also gives them enough numbers to dispense with ambitious allies who were cutting into their vote banks and also growing stronger the longer they were in power,” said political analyst Cleofato Almeida Coutinho.
The induction of the ten Congress lawmakers though has not gone down well with some sections of BJP workers and supporters. First to react was Utpal Parrikar, son of former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who said his father’s politics was being eroded. Media quoted BJP party sources as saying that Revenue minister and independent MLA Rohan Khaunte and Town and Country Planning Minister Sardessai could be axed in a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate the new entrants. If this goes through, the cabinet would have no representation from the numerically small but economically hefty Gaud Saraswat Brahmin community, from which Parrikar hailed.
Some BJP leaders in Goa were also aghast at the move. Within the party ranks, a debate has broken out on what many supporters are dubbing as the “Congressisation of the BJP” due to the large number of former Congressmen in the party.