Mumbai: In less than three months, the political alignments of almost a fifth of the 40-member Goa Legislative Assembly have changed, with at least six MLAs having resigned and joined other parties and two having pledged support to parties without quitting as legislators.
Of the eight MLAs who have changed their political affiliations, three have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), two have joined the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), one has joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and one independent MLA has extended support to the Congress.
The latest to resign was Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco. Lourenco submitted his resignation to the Assembly Speaker’s office Monday but was yet to formally join any other party.
The Goa assembly elections are just two months away, and while defections ahead of polls are common everywhere, they are almost a local tradition in Goa, where most MLAs have been a member of more than one party over the course of their political careers.
Assembly constituencies in Goa are small, with each seat having about 25,000-30,000 electors, which helps public representatives build an individual following. Due to this, they are confident of being re-elected irrespective of the party they contest for.
Goa MLAs who have joined BJP
Going by the electoral records of the MLAs who have jumped ship, the ruling BJP is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the bandwagon of defections. Of the three who have joined the BJP — Rohan Khaunte, Ravi Naik and Jayesh Salgaonkar — the first two have had a series of victories in their constituencies.
Independent MLA Khaunte joined the BJP Friday in the presence of Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Khaunte, who was a minister in the BJP-led government till former chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s death, has triumphed over the BJP as an Independent candidate for two successive elections — 2012 and 2017— from the Porvorim constituency. He chose to sit in the Opposition benches after he was dropped as minister in July 2019.
On Friday, while welcoming Khaunte to the BJP, Fadnavis said, “In 2007 when I first worked on elections in Goa, I was staying at Porvorim and working in the constituency. We couldn’t win the seat in 2012 or 2017. Then I got a call from the central leadership saying, why don’t we get Rohan Khaunte to join the BJP?”
Khaunte was among the bitterest critics of the Pramod Sawant-led BJP government. However, as he stood next to Sawant and formally entered the BJP, Khaunte rationalised his decision saying, “Political and ideological differences make vibrant legislation.”
“Many ask, why are you coming together with the people you were fighting against? The question is not wrong. But I took this decision only after discussions with my core karyakartas. BJP leaders are my colleagues. Sometimes there is cooperation, sometimes there are debates on certain issues, but there is never any personal enmity,” he added.
Naik, a former Goa CM, has had a long journey of nearly five decades in Goa’s politics, and joining the BJP from the Congress earlier this month was a homecoming of sorts.
He has won from the Ponda constituency five times (1984, 1999, 2002, 2007, and 2017), and Marcaim constituency once in 1989.
Naik was initially with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) till 1991, and later joined the Congress. In 2001, he engineered a split in the Congress legislative party and lent support to Parrikar to cobble together a BJP government in which Naik was deputy CM. He quit the BJP before the 2002 assembly polls and returned to the Congress.
His son, Roy Naik, joined the BJP in 2020. Ten years before, in 2010, the BJP, then in Opposition, had severely criticised the Naik clan for Roy’s alleged involvement in a drug cartel.
A senior Goa Congress leader who did not wish to be named told ThePrint, “We had stopped counting Ravi Naik as our MLA a long time before he actually resigned and joined the BJP. The loss won’t hurt us.”
Salgaonkar, the third MLA to quit and join the BJP, was the MLA for Saligão from the Vijai Sardesai-led Goa Forward Party (GFP). His entry into the BJP earlier this month is expected to cause some disappointment among local party workers looking for a ticket from the seat.
The BJP has also been trying to recruit former Congress CM Pratapsingh Rane, whose son Vishwajit Rane is a minister in the Sawant-led cabinet. Earlier this month, Fadnavis publicly indicated that the elder Rane, one of the three remaining Congress lawmakers in the Goa assembly, may join the BJP soon. Rane, however, rebutted the suggestion as a “figment of imagination”.
TMC’s gain could be Congress’ loss, and BJP’s gain
The first MLA to resign and defect was former Congress CM Luizinho Faleiro, who switched to the TMC in September and was given a Rajya Sabha seat by the party in November.
Faleiro is a seven-time MLA from Navelim and his defection to the TMC, together with that of Churchill Alemao, will create a strong base for the Banerjee-led party to make inroads in the Catholic-dominated Salcete sub-district.
Alemao, another former Goa CM, is a sitting MLA from Benaulim, adjacent to Navelim. He defected from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to the TMC earlier this month without resigning as a legislator, saying that he (as the lone NCP MLA) had merged his party’s legislative unit with the TMC. Alemao has represented Benaulim for four terms and Navelim for one term in 2007.
The Salcete taluka has traditionally been a Congress bastion, and a chance of the TMC making a dent here could indirectly help the BJP by weakening the Congress.
Political analyst Cleofato Coutinho told ThePrint, “The BJP was facing strong anti-incumbency sentiment, but the entry of TMC has disturbed that scenario. The TMC’s entry has created a little dent in the Congress’ vote, and the AAP’s graph is slightly going up. The Opposition is divided and the obvious beneficiary of this is the ruling party.”
Other than Faleiro and Alemao, Prasad Gaonkar, the Independent MLA from Sanguem, had also initially pledged support to the TMC, but later decided to back the Congress along with the GFP.
In the defection melee, the BJP, too, lost one MLA, Alina Saldanha, who represented the Cortalim constituency. Saldanha resigned Thursday and joined the AAP, saying, “The BJP seems to have forgotten all its principles and there is bedlam in the state.”
Parrikar had brought Saldanha into electoral politics after her husband, Matanhy Saldanha, died weeks after his victory from Cortalim in the 2012 assembly election. She won the bypoll and was re-elected in 2017.
BJP sources, however, said the party was in any case unlikely to field Alina Saldanha from the constituency again, with her winning margin in 2017 having been a slim 518 votes, and the sympathy wave after her husband’s death having ebbed.
The report has been updated to add details about the resignation of Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco Monday.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)