Land mafia behind Goa’s political woes

By Frederic Noronha, IANS

Panaji : Goa is again in the news for all the wrong reasons. The political crisis that has gripped the coastal state’s seven-month-old Digambar Kamat government with the resignation of three ministers had been waiting to happen.

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Political analysts say the state was pushed into political instability by the leaders’ lust for power and money, the land mafias and the bitter rivalry between the two major players – Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The role of the land mafia is the quietest but the most important. Each time a government has toppled in Goa, some green part of the 3,700-sq km state has gone under concrete.

The latest toppling game began with allies of the ruling Congress-led coalition targeting the pet project of Finance an IT Minister Dayanand Narvekar – the proposed Rajiv Gandhi IT Habitat.

On Wednesday, Vishwajit Rane (Independent), Micky Pacheco and Jose Philip (both of Nationalist Congress Party – NCP) resigned over their differences with Finance and IT Minister Dayanand Narveker.

Nilkanth Halarnkar, a legislator, also tendered his resignation to the governor.

The four resignations put the coalition in a minority in the 40-member Goa assembly.

The trouble began with some of the coalition members criticising Narvekar. But it was Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane, an independent MLA and the son of former Congress chief minister Pratapsing Rane, who has been accused of leading the revolt.

Rane and Atanasio Monserratte, United Goans Democratic Party MLA, who extended an issue-based support to the Kamat government, were targeting Narvekar. Monseratte, in particular, was opposing the IT habitat project while the finance minister was keen on it.

Meanwhile, the BJP, led by ambitious IITian-turned-politician Manohar Parrikar, had been pulling the strings for the ouster of the Kamat government.

Alleging irregularities in the allotment of land for the Special Economic Zones (SEZs), the BJP had been running a massive campaign against the Congress-led government in the state.

It has also been complaining about the role of Governor S.C. Jamir (a former Congressman) in the formation of the Congress government.

In the last assembly election, Congress had won 16 seats, while the BJP had 14. The Congress formed the government with the NCP, Save Goa Front and independents.

With the Kamat government in trouble, the smaller parties in the Goa assembly have once again become kingmakers. Some of the most controversial politicians, who jumped across the political divide repeatedly in recent years, have again risen to the fore in the current crisis.

Although the Congress had dominated Goa’s state politics for almost 27 years, the BJP began making its mark in 1994. Despite having a very few seats, the BJP managed to be in power through shrewd strategies.

The Congress, which came to power for the first time in 1980, ruled uninterruptedly for a decade. But the 1990s witnessed several dissidences and defections, leading to political instability.

The BJP had marginalized the earlier dominant soft-Hindutva Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, and then wrecked the Congress mainly through defections by its over-ambitious leaders.

In recent elections, Goa has been returning thinly divided assemblies, with often both the Congress and BJP failing to get a clear majority in the 40-seat house. Even when a minority government was sworn in, the ambitious smaller parties and the MLAs had vowed to disrupt its stability.

Rumours are rife in the state about the eight-digit figures the MLAs are bargaining for in order to support either side.