Goa’s legislators, especially those elected in the 2017 Assembly polls, do not seem to have unshakeable allegiances to the party which fielded them in the elections.
If the decade from 1990 to 2000 gave India’s smallest state 13 Chief Ministers, the four years from 2017 have marked a new epoch in Goa’s political carnival, with as many as 20 MLAs (of the 40-member Assembly) joining political parties, different from the ones they won their seats for.
The ruling BJP’s magnetic broth pot appears to have drawn legislators from all hues – from Congress, of regional parties and even an Independent legislator – in four years.
‘Horse-trading’, which was once an affair whose brief window opened and closed days after the counting of votes polled in an Assembly election, now appears to have become an year-long phenomenon.
Since 2017, the litany of legislators who have quit their respective parties reads something like this.
After the 13-MLA-strong BJP pipped the Congress (17 MLAs) to power in 2017 with support of alliances carved overnight, the first legislator to crossover was Congress MLA Vishwajit Rane resigned from the party on March 16, the day of the floor test itself.
Vishwajit Rane, whose father Pratapsingh Rane is a veteran Congress leader and a former Chief Minister, was appointed Health Minister in the cabinet led by then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
More than a year later, it was the turn of two more Congress MLAs – Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar, a former state President, to quit the party on October 16 and join the BJP on the same day. Rane, Sopte and Shirodkar all faced by-elections which they won to become newly-minted BJP legislators.
On March 27, 2019, the BJP split the three-member Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party legislative unit, by inducting two of its MLAs – Manohar Ajgaonkar and Dipak Pauskar – into the party.
Three times lucky already, an emboldened BJP counted a midnight raid on the Congress’s ranks, taking away 10 of their lawmakers this time, leaving the Congress tottering further.
This was followed by a period of lull as the newly-appointed Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who succeeded Parrikar (who died in office) had a comfortable majority to see out the rest of his tenure thanks to all the crossovers.
While the year 2020 and the early half of 2021 was plagued by the pressures exerted by the pandemic, the political hunting season in Goa picked up again late in 2021 again, as the state Assembly poll beckoned.
So far three sitting MLAs – Jayesh Salgaonkar of the Goa Forward party, former Chief Minister Ravi Naik of the Congress and independent MLA Rohan Khaunte – have quit as legislators. While the former two have already joined the BJP, Khaunte is scheduled to join the saffron party on Friday.
Another Congress MLA Luizinho Faleiro quit in March to join the Trinamool Congress, while Nationalist Congress Party’s lone legislator Churchill Alemao earlier this month claimed to have merged into the Trinamool.
On Thursday, in a first, sitting BJP MLA and former Forest Minister Alina Saldanha quit the BJP and is tipped to join the Aam Aadmi Party soon.
Effectively 50 per cent of the 40 MLAs have ceased to represent the political parties on whose ticket they were elected to the state Assembly in 2017.
According to Kishor Naik Gaonkar, editor of Goan Varta Live, a popular Marathi news platform, the period between 2017-2021 signals the death (for now) of political ideology as a leverage for winning elections in Goa, a state where voters appear to pose trust in individual political cults rather than political parties.
“Political leaders have dislocated themselves from political ideologies,” he said.
The new and improved electoral formula presented by the new generation leaders of the BJP of winning elections (pan India) at all costs has also contributed to the increased hustling among legislators.
“Winning an election is not enough any more. There is a realisation that one has to stay in power, one has to be on the ruling side because it is getting increasingly difficult to satisfy the ‘demands’ of constituents. An MLA literally has to survive his or her voters for five years,” Gaonkar said.