A Congress protest in Panjim evoked a rather good response, as a sea of heads was visible at Panjim’s Azad Maidan, where the party denounced corruption and government highhandedness. After a series of letters to the Governor listing out their demands, Congress was finally able to manage a decent show of strength in Panjim. For an opposition party that keeps reminding the people that it has the largest number of MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, its counter to the State’s governance failure has been ineffective and at times almost juvenile. Get this: A month ago the party had demanded for a clear answer on what ails the Chief Minister and had threatened a protest. Neither was the party given an answer, nor has it carried out its threat. It has now questioned the failure of issuing a medical bulletin on the Chief Minister’s health.
Ironically, while Congress protested exposing the government’s failures, it also exposed that it has failed as an opposition all these months, which has led to the current situation, where ministers are being called to New Delhi to confer with the CM who remains admitted in a hospital.
If the BJP-led government has managed to get away with building a wall of secrecy around the CM’s illness and keeping the administration in a dormant state, it is precisely because Congress has displayed its incapability of working as a strong opposition. Except for dashing off letters to the Governor, the party has not taken its protests to a different level, or managed to sound coherent in its demands. Last month, the party organisation and the legislative body had been speaking in different voices on the same subject. When the Pradesh Congress Committee had threatened to protest in public if the Chief Minister’s medical papers were not made public, the Legislative Party leader, when asked if they would join the protest, had not sounded very confident when he had said, “We are with GPCC if it decides to protest.”
Despite the absence of a few of its leaders from the dais, Congress’ show of strength, their first concerted effort since the 2017 elections, comes at a moment of time when the State awaits a fully functioning government. Yet, while the party announced it was ‘exposing’ government scams, in reality it only managed to turn the focus just briefly on issues that have already been highlighted in the media, and that have been debated, but await closure. It did not expose any new scams, leading to much of rhetoric and little of substance spoken at the meeting. But, it is not what was said at the protest meeting that will jolt the government, but the numbers of the people attending that will lead to a few eyebrows rising in governing circles, especially since the BJP is already facing some dissension within, and which it is having trouble controlling.
The bigger question is whether Congress can turn this advantage into forcing the government to act more responsibly and decisively. For the last few months, Goa has been caught in a state of flux, where the government has been rudderless, and the opposition voiceless. Both need to change, and since the latter has found its voice at last, can it use it to get the government working again? In a democracy, the opposition is expected to keep the government in a constant state of alertness, and in this Congress has failed, allowing NGOs and activist organisations to occupy this space. If the party wants to be taken seriously, it has to reclaim this space and that can be done only by acting like an opposition should, not just by making statements but also by its deeds.