28 Oct 2018 05:51am IST

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28 Oct 2018 05:51am IST

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Birds of the same feather flock together! Not so much so in politics where political ideology changes rapidly as lawmakers board the power bandwagon to land in the lucrative lap of policymakers. It seems the embarrassment of not being able to form the government in Goa was not enough, that now it is struggling to keep its house in order as the ruling BJP poaches its MLAs, thereby, further reducing the party numbers in the Assembly. Can the Congress still afford to fancy a flight? TEAM HERALD finds out

Leadership Crisis 

“Two of our MLAs resigned and left the party. When such an event happens, the party’s executive committee has to sit together and decide the next course of action. Here we don’t have an executive committee,” said a senior Congress leader. “How can we fight the Lok Sabha election if the organisation of the party is not in place?” he questioned.

The leader further says that presently people are discussing of possible sidelining of senior leaders and that the party is only promoting youth. Then there are also rumours that we are only promoting Bahujan Samaj. In fact, the GPCC president has not said anything against Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte when they resigned.

“There is nothing called old face or new face. The party needs everybody. According to me, Francisco Sardinha is the best candidate for South Goa seat. Last time the party had listened to Vijai Sardesai and denied Sardinha the ticket. This time around, because the party leadership has someone else in mind, they should not black out Sardinha from all events like the way they are doing right now. This is a chronic problem in the Congress. Some elements in the party want to use Bahujan agenda to sideline some leaders but the Congress party has always been all-inclusive,” said the Congress leader.

The tussle between the old leaders, new leaders, and certain MLAs who have close ties with the BJP is sending out a conflicting and contradictory message to the public and is creating a crisis of leadership. “When we raise any issue, people ask us why are our MLAs silent. When Reginald Lourenso raises any issue they say why the party and leader of opposition are not with him? This is why people are very pessimistic about the leadership within the Congress,” said a block president of the party.

Some blocks do not have faith that the party leadership will back them up. “If we work for the block, tomorrow the party might say that we want an alliance with Goa Forward. We can’t trust the party leadership. The State party leaders use our shoulders to fire at rival MLAs during their tenure but then during election, we are sidelined and even denied a ticket. In Fatorda and Saligao, they gave the ticket to the candidates just 15 days before the election. We did not get support from neighbouring Congress MLAs like Digambar Kamat. Most of our workers felt betrayed and used. In the future, they might do the same thing that is why workers don’t want to come out in the open and work for the party”, said a member of the Fatorda Block Congress. Party members say that the alliance has failed in the past yet the leadership hasn’t learnt their lesson. “Instead of of appreciateing and supporting the blocks, they are still hobnobbing with the rival leaders.”, said a Congress leader.

Lacking unique narrative

The BJP’s narrative revolves around one man who can provide a stable government and the protection of the majority community who they claim has been victimised by both the Congress and Left parties. The BJP also hijacked the socialist policies of the Congress, repackaged and promoted them as their own. Unfortunately, the Congress party in Goa is unable to weave its own unique narrative which can counter the BJP.

Take for example the issue of leadership. The Congress or even the Indian political system is not a personality-centric system. Since Goa and India have parliamentary democracy, promoting a ‘face’ like Narendra Modi is against the spirit of our democratic system since it forces people to vote for an MP or MLA who may be incompetent, criminal minded or corrupt.

“The Congress party should have been saying, vote for an MLA or MP who will serve you. If you vote for a good and clean MP, you will get a good and clean Prime Minister,” said a former MLA.

Public campaigns gone 

with the wind

The Congress party in the recent months has been focused on press conferences and protests as their primary strategy to win support. They seem to have forgotten that what really turned the tide before the 2017 Assembly election were not the corruption revelations by an aggressive spokesperson or the protest rallies. The polarity of the Congress party increased when a loyal party office-bearer Girish Chodankar led a padhyatra where he and other leaders like Swati Kerkar and Jannardhan Bhandari walked the whole of the state distributing booklets which highlighted the failures and U-Turn of the BJP.

In May 2018, the Congress party had announced the campaign called Naman Goemkara meant to meet and understand the problems of the people and place them before the government. The party had said their leaders will communicate with the ‘people in a bus or a rickshaw, taxi, motorcycle, ferry boat or anywhere on the street’ to know the problems they are facing. 

Unfortunately, the campaign faded away because one of the brains behind the campaign, Siddhanath Buyao, is involved in the Congress campaign in Madhya Pradesh.

“We had covered most of the constituencies. Only four were remaining. We had got a very good response from the people because many of the issues which had taken up were resolved. It should have continued. I will surely do it when I am back after the Madhya Pradesh elections”, said Siddhanath Buyao. But how did an effective campaign abruptly come to a halt just because one man is not around? Is it the fault of the GPCC president or the Congress doesn’t have proactive leaders and workers who will grab the opportunity and lift the mantle of responsibility and continue the work?

Do protests convert into votes?

According to one block president, the total cost of sending a bus full of people is around Rs 20,000 which the block president or members have to spend from their own pockets. The sum includes Rs 300 per person along with water, snacks and the cost of hiring a bus. “Other parties give Rs 500 along with a snack box. If we don’t spend, people won’t come”, he said.

Congress loyalist Subhash Shirodkar explained that the directions to hold a protest, for example, the protest held in front of the CBI office on Friday, comes from the party president Rahul Gandhi. However, local blocks are unhappy since the protests are held too frequently. “We have to spend at least Rs 25-30,000 every month if we want to sustain a block,”, said the block president.

The question is do these protests get converted into votes? The state and district level leaders claim that the protests have an impact but block presidents disagree. Other block presidents echoed the same sentiments. 

Block Committee Vs MLAs

While all of the Block/Constituency committees had been constituted last year, the blocks committees are yet to get an approval by the central Congress leadership. However, the Congress party in Delhi is not responsible for the delay.

According to the top leaders in the party, some of the MLAs are against some of the members and office bearers who have been listed in the local block committee. The MLAs want their own supporters to occupy the post of block president, secretaries and other positions. This has been going on for the last few decades and whenever the MLA quits the party, the party block quits, thus, decimating the block. Unfortunately, the Congress leadership has done little to learn from the past. As long as the MLA controls the block, the block will always put the MLAs interest before the party.

Worker disconnect

The Congress party has rolled out new initiatives to connect with grassroots workers. One booth 10 youth and Shakti- a point based online process of enrolling booth level workers are just two of such initiatives. But the party in the state is yet to galvanise grassroots workers and initiate these campaigns.

When BJP was in the opposition, Manohar Parrikar would actively meet and involve himself with activists, galvanise people for public meetings, file high court PILs and even made tall promises in front of protestors, which of course he broke once he came to power. 

One activist stated that besides Reginaldo Lourence, every other MLA shy away from associating with activists or attending any protest or rally organised by citizen groups. “They rarely offer any assistance to activists and NGO to file complaints or PILs against the government even though in the end it would benefit the Congress,” said Dr Chellakumar.

Failure to form govt keeps newbie at bay

If you ask any Congress worker whether people from their constituency are joining the party, the common response is: “Why will they join? The first thing they ask us is why we couldn’t form the government? Now they say, the party couldn’t even hold on to its MLAs”.

The fact that while former Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh wasted time after the Assembly election results trying to rope in Goa Forward Party, none of the MLAs of the Congress Party put their foot down and demanded that a letter should be sent to the Governor. This reinforced the notion that the party is run by the Delhi leadership when the truth is that none of the MLAs actually had the leadership qualities to stand up and take charge of the situation.

Lack of aggression 

Anyone who watches the opposition MLAs speak in the assembly will find an abysmal lack of aggression as compared to the past opposition leader Manohar Parrikar. 

Reginald Lourenco raises the most number of issues from across Goa but most other MLAs such as Nilkhant Haldankar,Filipe Nery Rodrigues, Subash Shirodkar, and even the opposition leader Chandrakant (Babu) Kavlekar speak more politely to the minister as compared to BJP’s own MLAs like Micheal Lobo and Nilesh Cabral.

“It looks like most Congress MLAs are scared of Parrikar,” said a party member. 

Scratching each other’s back

In the Congress party corruption is an extremely taboo topic. Workers say that none of the GPCC leader keeps a watch on the MLAs and anyone pointing fingers at an MLA’s corrupt deeds is silenced.

“Congress MLAs know that if they resign and join the BJP or Goa Forward, Congress won't take any action. That is the reason why our MLAs have left and there are rumours of more MLAs quitting.”
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