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Under a new state unit president, Congress in Goa sniffs a shot at power

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-07-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: With a new state unit president at the helm of affairs now, the Congress party in Goa is all set to go back to the drawing board to revise its strategy against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance government.

Goa Congress functionaries say the new state unit president Shantaram Naik may bring more energy to the organisation in Goa and try out new tactics to leverage the “multiple inner contradictions and tensions” of the Manohar Parrikar government.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) last week appointed Shantaram Naik, a Rajya Sabha MP from Goa, as its state unit chief. Naik’s term as Rajya Sabha MP ends on 28 July and the Congress party has yet to nominate its candidate for the election scheduled on 21 July. By making Naik the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president, the Congress has virtually ruled him out of the Rajya Sabha contention, party functionaries in Goa say. 

AICC secretary and Goa Congress leader Girish Chodankar said in a phone interview that the Congress would revisit its strategy in Goa under Naik and “would not shy away from forming the government if the Parrikar-government fell under the pressure of its own contradictions”. 

“We will sit together and discuss what strategy needs to be deployed to restore the mandate of the people of Goa which was for the Congress to rule and not the BJP. The BJP, which never respects democracy, has betrayed this mandate and even those people who voted for the BJP are now repenting their decision,” Chodankar said. He added that Naik was a “seasoned campaigner” and brought to the position lot of experience.

The by-elections to the Panaji and Valpoi assembly constituencies, though not scheduled yet, will be the first test of a rejuvenated Congress in Goa. Panaji by-poll has been necessitated because BJP MLA Siddharth Kuncolienkar resigned to make way for Parrikar who has to get elected to the assembly within six months from March 2017. In Valpoi, Congress legislator Vishwajeet Rane resigned from his seat and joined the BJP. 

The Goa Congress has been sulking ever since the BJP, which won only 13 seats in the 40-member Goa assembly in February 2017 election, pipped it to stake claim, with the support of smaller parties and independents, to form the government. Parrikar resigned as defence minister and was sent back to Goa by the BJP to lead an alliance government of the BJP, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa Forward (GF) and Independents.

The Congress, which won 17 seats as against nine in the 2012 elections, was yet again outmanoeuvred by the BJP. There has been a lot of heartburn and factional fighting since then and Congress MLAs have blamed AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, who was Goa in-charge, and former state unit president Luizinho Faleiro for not taking the Congress over the line. In fact, Vishwajeet Rane left the party blaming the leadership and later joined the BJP to become health minister in the Parrikar government.

Naik’s appointment, Chodankar said, would revitalise the organisation and bring back the intent to fight. Goa-based media outlets reported last week that Naik was keen to “build the party organisation his own way”. He called the formation of the BJP-led government a “midnight dacoity” and asserted that the Congress would bring the treasure back.

A Congress legislator, who was critical of Naik’s predecessor Faleiro and Digvijay Singh, said on the condition of anonymity that Naik was expected to “set right the wrongs committed by his predecessor and other Congress leaders”.

Asked if the Congress would actively try to topple the Parrikar government by reaching out to the MGP, GF and independents, Chodankar said the Congress was “duty-bound to restore the mandate given by the people of Goa but will do everything by fair means”.

“The parties supporting the BJP have to take a call themselves as to how long they can go on betraying the mandate. There are several lobbies and conflicting interests that this government represents and as long as this government survives it will work against the interests of Goa,” Chodankar said.

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