Over the 31 years since Goa attained statehood in 1987, it has had 18 chief ministers and three stints of President’s Rule.
Mumbai: With Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar under treatment for pancreatic cancer and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) struggling to find a successor palatable to all allies in the coalition government, Goa finds itself grappling with administrative paralysis and political uncertainty.
The current BJP-led government comprises a coalition with regional players Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party (GFP) along with Independents, and hinges on Parrikar as the only undisputed leader.
However, this spell of turbulence is nothing new for the small coastal state known for its placid beaches.
Unstable governments have defined Goa’s political landscape since it attained full statehood in 1987, with elections throwing up fractured mandates, personalities driving politics more than parties, and defections almost a local tradition.
Over the past 31 years, Goa’s chief ministership has changed hands 18 times, with only one incumbent, Digambar Kamat of the Congress, completing a full term. There have also been three stints under President’s Rule — 14 December 1990 to 25 January 1991; 10 February 1999 to 9 June 1999; and 4 March 2005 to 7 June 2005
A trail of fractured mandates
Goa, a former Portuguese colony, was annexed to India in 1961. It held its first election in 1963, and was governed by regional parties till the Congress established its maiden government there in 1980.
The state’s politics has been especially turbulent since achieving statehood, with its trail of fractured mandates paving the way for different kinds of political machinations to gain power.
For instance, the Luizinho Faleiro-led Congress government, which had come to power with a rare majority of 21 seats in the 40-member assembly in 1999, was toppled within five months.
Fellow party leader Francisco Sardinha, who had chief ministerial ambitions, broke away from the Congress with 10 other MLAs and joined hands with the BJP to form a government with him at the helm.
The Sardinha government itself fell within just 11 months, when the BJP hatched a coup while he was in Australia for a tourism promotion event. With the support of 22 MLAs, the party staked claim to form the government. This led to the formation of the state’s first BJP-led government, and marked Manohar Parrikar’s debut as chief minister.
“Goa’s politics saw greater instability in the post-statehood years as the stakes became higher for individual MLAs to seek greater entitlements for themselves and their constituents,” said Rahul Tripathi, head of the political science department at Goa University.
“The small size of constituencies ensured that it was easy for the local leader to swing the numbers in his favour,” he added.
“It is interesting to note that even as the influence of regional parties such as the Mahrashtra Gomantak Party (MGP) and the United Goans Party (UGP) declined and the national parties — the Congress and BJP — took over after the 1990s,” he said, “politics in Goa became less ideological and more transactional, with both parties gradually becoming mirror images of each other.”
Size matters, say experts
Every constituency in Goa has about 25,000 to 30,000 electors. Political watchers say this helps leaders build a base where they are confident of re-election even if they defect from one party to another.
“This has given rise to small fiefdoms of certain politicians who control two or three constituencies, such as Pratapsingh Rane,” said advocate Cleofato A. Coutinho, a political commentator.
“Political parties are heavily dependent on these persons. All this means that you have individual politicians, and not parties, dominating constituencies,” he added.
For instance, MLA Vishwajeet Rane won the Valpoi assembly constituency in the 2017 poll by a margin of over 5,000 votes on a Congress ticket.
The Congress emerged as the single largest party in the election with 17 of the state’s 40 seats, but the BJP (13 seats) managed to cobble together a quick alliance with the MGP (three), the GFP (three) and two Independents to take office.
Rane subsequently resigned from the Congress and joined the BJP. In the ensuing bypoll for Valpoi, Rane won by an even fatter margin, more than 10,000 votes, against Congress rival Roy Naik.
Recently, two more Congress MLAs — Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte —resigned to join the BJP amid the latter’s efforts to bolster its numbers to dodge any Congress bid to unseat the government.
“In a democracy, when people elect you for five years, one should complete the term,” said Govind Gaude, an Independent MLA and a minister in the Parrikar cabinet.
“But, ultimately, it is in the hands of the people. The only way forward is if voters put their foot down and give a decisive mandate that they are not willing to tolerate defections.”
Relative stability in decade
The last decade in Goa’s politics, from 2007 to 2017, has been relatively stable. First, a Congress-led government completed its term under Digambar Kamat, and then a BJP government under Parrikar and Laxmikant Parsekar. The latter took office after Parrikar was appointed the Union Defence Minister.
Coutinho said the Kamat government’s full term could be credited to the former chief minister’s ability to “carry the coalition”.
“But Kamat had to deal with veteran Goa politicians and former chief ministers in his cabinet and he often had to give in to their demands for the sake of keeping the government stable,” he added. “So, this also came to be known as Goa’s most corrupt government.”
The 2012-17 BJP government completed a full term because it got an absolute majority — making it only the second majority government of the state.
“Political instability has been a tradition in Goa, but over the last few years, the average voter has grown more educated, politically aware and in favour of stability,” said Deepak Dhavalikar of the MGP.
Talking about the recent defections, he added, “We have seen defections in political parties now for the first time in 10 years.”
“It is possible that the new-age voter may not react very positively to this. We will have to wait and watch,” he said.