The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Woman’s turn to torment Congress in Goa

New Delhi, July 26: A woman in Goa has given the Congress its first jolt and the BJP a leg-up after the presidential election that sent Pratibha Patil to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The Congress-led government in Goa is teetering on the brink as the party’s lone woman MLA, Victoria Fernandes, two of its allies and an Independent withdrew their support.

Victoria was reportedly peeved with the Congress for not making her a minister at a time the party was celebrating the election of India’s first woman President. If the power struggle drags on, the issue could eventually reach the new President’s table.

The BJP, which cut a sorry figure when its legislators cross-voted in the presidential election, found an opportunity to strike and “bust” the UPA’s “facade” of strength and unity.

BJP leader and former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, egged on by the central leaders, quickly worked on the Congress’s erstwhile allies and cobbled together a new front, the Goa Democratic Alliance.

Parrikar said in Panaji that the alliance would prove its numbers on the floor of the House as soon as governor S.C. Jamir returned from Delhi.

Ironically, Jamir was in the capital to attend Pratibha’s swearing-in and stayed on for another day. He is apparently keen to move to Delhi and return to active politics.

In the 40-member Assembly, the BJP-led front has 20 MLAs and the Congress 18. The Speaker has one vote while Victoria’s status is in dispute. The Congress has sought her disqualification for not voting on the demand-for-grants in the ongoing budget session despite a whip.

The central leaders of the Congress and the BJP were in a “wait-and-watch” mode, leaving the issue to the state players.

Margaret Alva, the Congress’s general secretary in charge of Goa, sent her secretary Siddharth Patel to assess the situation.

With the Assembly adjourned until Monday, sources said the Congress’s best bet was to buy time and win back Victoria and the other deserters to ensure that Digambar Kamat stayed on as chief minister.

But the job was easier said than done, given the perception that Kamat has “formidable” foes within that lobby which wanted a controversial development plan to be put back on the table.

The ambitious development blueprint was put on hold when it was opposed for environmental and cultural reasons before the last elections.

The Congress had other problems. The party is keeping a wary eye on Pratapsinh Rane, the former chief minister who had to make way for Kamat, and his son, an Independent MLA who the Congress neutralised with a ministerial berth.

The alleged role of another Independent member from an industrialist’s family in the revolt is also under the scanner.

“It is very unfortunate but not unexpected in Goa,” said Alva. “The people of Goa have to decide whether they want the regional plan or the Congress which scrapped the plan.”

Prakash Javadekar, the BJP’s spokesperson, tossed the ball in Pratibha’s court and said: “It is the first test of the Congress leadership with a new President in office. We hope the best traditions set by K.R. Narayanan and Abdul Kalam will be followed.”

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