Swift BJP outmanoeuvres Congress; even pre-poll ally plays games

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NEW DELHI: The AICC establishment was left red-faced after the Congress failed to mop up four heads to cross the halfway mark of 21 in the Goa assembly, especially since it had emerged as the single-largest party with 17 MLAs in the just-concluded state election.

But it was the internecine fights among the three former chief ministers for the CM’s post that put a spanner in the works of the party. Before choosing to defect to the BJP, the Goa Forward Party (GFP), which fought polls in alliance with the Congress, too had become a party to the fight for the CLP post.

Congress insiders told ET that AICC general secretary in-charge Digvijaya Singh and his two deputies — secretary Girish Chodankar and chairman of candidate election committee, KC Venugopal — held a meeting of the newly-elected Congress MLAs (some of them couldn’t attend it as they failed to reach) by 7 pm in the Goa capital on Saturday.

By then, the three former Congress CMs — Luizinho Faleiro, Digambar Kamat and Pratapsingh Rane (also elected as MLAs) —had thrown their hats into the ring. The positioning for the CLP leadership by three senior leaders resulted in a deadlock.

Even though most of the MLAs backed Faleiro, the other two refused to yield. After securing the support of independent MLA Rohan Khaunte, Singh and his two colleagues met GFP leader Vijay Sardesai to work out a powersharing formula. The GFP has three MLAs in the state assembly.

It is learnt the GFP asked for — and AICC leaders readily agreed to it — one ministership and two chairmanship of corporations. But, then, the GFP side also said that they would back only a Rane-led Congress government.

While the AICC functionaries returned to their base and renewed their consensus-building effort in CLP, they found themselves confronted by a lightning counteroperation by the BJP. The Congress had assured the GFP that the leadership issue would be settled by the next morning so that the CLP leader could meet the governor and stake claim.

“BY 10 pm, Nitin Gadkari and the BJP team from Delhi had reached Panaji and we were told they were meeting party MLAs, independents and others to mop up numbers. By 11 pm, we found that Sardesai’s cellphone was switched off, giving us the first signal the GFP was crossing over to the BJP despite having fought in alliance with the Congress.

We tried to woo back Sardesai, but there was no response,” said a leader part of the Congress operation. After Manohar Parrikar’s name was floated by the BJP for CMship, the Congress team sought a meeting with Governor Mridula Sinha on Monday, but was given time only on Tuesday. By then the match was settled, leaving Congress with no other option but to knock on the Supreme Court’s door.