2 Goa MLAs switch sides, Cong says BJP murdering democracy

Two Congress MLAs from Goa, including a former state party chief, joined the BJP on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the opposition party in a state where the saffron party-led alliance government enjoys a thin majority.

Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte, both of whom have resigned from the assembly, met BJP president Amit Shah at his residence in Delhi and were later inducted into the party at a press conference addressed by Union minister Piyush Goyal.

Goyal described Shirodkar, a six-time MLA and former state Congress president, and Sopte, a two-term legislator, as leaders of high stature and popular among the masses, adding that their presence in the BJP would boost its state government’s development agenda.

Goa BJP leaders Vishwajit Rane, a minister in the Parrikar government, and Shripad Naik, an MP from the state and a Union minister, were also present at the press conference, with Rane claiming that the Congress in the state is “heading towards a vertical split” due to its MLAs’ lack of faith in the leadership of the party’s national president Rahul Gandhi.

Rane, who had quit the Congress to join the BJP after the assembly polls in 2017, is seen as one of the contenders for the top post in case the ruling party looks for Parrikar’s replacement. He is believed to have played a key role in winning over the two leaders.

Shirodkar said he joined the BJP due to the development works of the Parrikar government and added that he believed it was the only party capable of issues facing the state.

In the 40-member assembly, the Parrikar government has the support of 23 MLAs. These comprise 14 BJP MLAs, three each from the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party as well as three Independents. The strength of the Congress, which has so far been the single largest party with 16 MLAs, will now come down to 14. With Parrikar’s condition critical due to illness and some MLAs of the alliance restive at the prospect of any likely replacement, the BJP has been making vigorous efforts to boost its numbers in the assembly. It is likely to field the two leaders from the constituencies in the byelections caused by their resignation.

Sopte (54) represented the Mandrem Assembly constituency in North Goa district and Shirodkar (66) was elected from Shiroda in South Goa district.

Earlier, in Goa, Assembly Speaker Pramod Sawant said Shirodkar and Sopte had sent their resignations by fax as members of the assembly to his office. Shirodkar said more MLAs from the Congress may join the saffron party.

Goa BJP chief Vinay Dinu Tendulkar told reporters that portfolios are likely to be reshuffled among ministers in the coming days.

Goa has been witnessing hectic political activity due to the chief minister’s prolonged absence from office due to ill health. He is currently being treated by doctors from the state-run Goa Medical College and Hospital at his private residence at Dona Paula near Panaji.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari accused the BJP of misusing the official machinery and probe agencies to break other parties, and claimed similar things have also happened in some other states. “What has happened in Goa now and what has happened in other states before, clearly shows that the BJP has killed democracy and democratic traditions. The government is misusing the official machinery and this is a perfect example of how to run a government by creating an atmosphere of terror, fear and intimidation.”