The peculiarity of the timing is actually not strange.
It’s meant to score political brownie points, and give an edge to a politician while signalling out a political opponent. Atanasio (Babush) Monserrate has admitted in his affidavit filed with the Election Commission of India along with his nomination papers for the by-election to the Panjim Assembly constituency the criminal cases registered against him. He has also published – as mandated by the Supreme Court – the cases that have been registered against him. There is nothing about this that is not known. There is no new case against him. They all date back a few years. But, the timing of their surfacing into public space and people’s minds is what is uncanny.
This is not the first time that Monserrate is contesting the Panjim election. It is the second in less than 30 months and could have been the third had not some political engineering been undertaken by the ruling coalition in July 2017. After Sidharth Kuncalienker resigned his membership of the Assembly, to create a vacancy for Manohar Parrikar who was chief minister but not a MLA, Congress had almost zeroed in on Monserrate as their candidate to challenge the chief minister. It was all set, except that Monserrate changed his mind quite suddenly and joined the Goa Forward Party which is a coalition partner in the government. He was appointed vice president of the party and being part of the coalition government backed Parrikar in the by-election. Congress fielded their party president Girish Chodankar, and Parrikar won the polls.
A little after Parrikar was elected as MLA, a new planning and development authority was created named the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority, and the GFP vice president Monserrate was appointed its chairman. At that time not a single word was spoken by the BJP against Monserrate, but in the run-up to this by-election BJP has brought up the cases filed against the Congress candidate and has even gone on to ask whether the opposition party ‘backs the criminal background’ of its candidate. BJP spokesperson Damu Naik who raised this subject, when asked whether this was not an issue when Monserrate was with the alliance, attempted to deflect the query, stating that Monserrate was not a member of the BJP at that time and was not appointed by the BJP as GPPDA chairman. Naik perhaps forgets or is ignorant of the fact that the GFP is a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the appointment to the GPPDA was made during the chief ministership of Parrikar.
As Panjim comes within days of electing a new MLA, where Monserrate is a candidate, there comes another jolt. The survivor who accused Monserrate of rape has gone missing from the hostel in which she was staying on April 28, a missing complaint filed on April 29 and the news hit the media only on May 13. Between April 29 and May 13, the BJP spoke of women’s safety. There appears to have been a lot of preparation in preparing the ground to upset the political equations when the news of the rape survivor going missing would break. There were two weeks during which nobody heard of the missing girl.
The question that arises is: Why the double standards? Was Monserrate squeaky clean when he was a part of the ruling coalition in Goa, but got tainted only when he joined the Congress? Naik was clear about there being a ‘criminal background’ of the candidate, so this ‘background’ didn’t arise in the last few weeks. It existed even when Monserrate was part of the coalition party, but at that time the coalition apparently had no issue with it.
The Panjim by-election should be held on a level playing field, without extraneous factors playing a role. Let the people of Panjim decide who among the candidates should represent them. They are wise enough to do it.