The numbers game in Goa turned farcical yet again with two MLAs of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) merging their outfit with the ruling BJP and the new chief minister, Pramod Sawant, dropping MGP leader, Sudin Dhavalikar, from his Cabinet, a mere five days after he was appointed deputy CM. With the MGP “merger”, the BJP now has 14 MLAs in the 40-member assembly. But given the way things have been going, this may be no guarantee for political stability in the state. The results of the upcoming byelections could inject more uncertainty in the government and trigger even more hard bargaining among parties and MLAs.
Goa’s polity has not settled down since the 2017 assembly elections threw up a hung assembly. The BJP was voted out but the Congress fell short of a majority by four seats. The MGP and Goa Forward Party, which fought both the BJP and the Congress, ended up with three MLAs each and, along with independents, turned king-makers as the two national parties bid for allies. A favourably inclined governor meant that the BJP got to form a coalition government with Manohar Parrikar arriving from the Centre to run it. Parrikar’s persona lent the coalition a sheen of acceptability, but the manner in which it was formed remained controversial. Even though seriously unwell, Parrikar stayed in office, perhaps to keep ambitious allies in check. Leaders of the MGP and GFP demanded the CM’s post after Parrikar’s death, and on Wednesday, Dhavalikar described his ouster from the Cabinet and loss of MLAs as a “midnight dacoity by chowkidars” and “a national party wiping out a regional party”. But the fact is, the leadership of the MGP, once the predominant party in Goa, was complicit in playing fast and loose with the rules of the game.
Political instability has been a feature of Goa: Just two chief ministers have managed to complete a full term in over 50 years. Politicians frequently crossing sides and constantly changing chief ministers have pointed fingers at the size of the state. This is not an entirely convincing argument. Other small states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Puduchery or Delhi have had relatively stable governments. Nor can Goa’s chronic instability be blamed on regional outfits, which were once influential in the state. The onus is on the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, which now dominate the state’s political space, to raise the bar, to ensure that fringe players do not get to hijack government formation or governance.