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July 27, 1998

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Goa assembly adjourned to Tuesday, Rane gets reprieve for now

Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panaji

Pratapsing Rane Even as noisy scenes forced Goa Speaker Tomazinho Cardozo to adjourn the House till Tuesday, the political crisis that threatens to topple the Pratapsingh Rane government took another twist with Governor retired Lt General J F R Jacob advising the Congress dissidents to sort out the crisis in the state assembly.

Rebel Congress leader Dr Wilfred de Souza met Governor Jacob once again on Monday evening along with Opposition leaders, demanding forcefully that the Rane government be dismissed. Various political leaders, who called on the governor on Monday, said Lt General Jacob would watch the situation before forming an opinion.

Dr Wilfred De Souza

The drama in the beachside state began with the Congress rebels serving notice on Chief Minister Rane that if he did not resign by Monday morning, they would petition the governor to form a coalition government with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

The rebels were led by Dr de Souza, the state's deputy chief minister, and included four members of the Rane ministry. At a secret meeting at a five star hotel in north Goa on Sunday night, the dissidents finalised their strategy.

When Rane refused to quit, the rebel MLAs, along with their Opposition supporters, rushed to Raj Bhavan at 0900 hours on Monday morning to stake their claim to form a new government. Both the BJP and MGP decided to support Dr De Souza's breakaway Goa Rajiv Congress party. BJP and MGP leaders said they would decide on participation in Dr de Souza's government later.

Dr de Souza claims he has the support of 10 Congress MLAs. With the MGP's eight MLAs, the BJP's 4 MLAs and at least one Independent legislator, he says he has enough support to form a new government. "Let this government go. Then I will stake my claim," he said.

The 40-member Goa assembly consists of 23 Congress MLAs, eight MGP, four BJP, two of Churchill Alemaoís United Goa Democratic Party legislators and three Independent MLAs.

MGP leader Dr Kashinath Jhalmi said his party's support to the de Souza government would be unconditional. BJP leader Manohar Parrikar, MLA, added that party president Kushabhau Thakre had okayed the new political alignments in Goa. BJP sources the party would do everything possible to weaken the Congress in the state.

Rane, whose government was reduced to a minority, appeared defiant. He admitted he had been taken by surprise by the rebellion, but said he would not submit his resignation. "Let them defeat me on the floor of the House, if they have a majority," he said on Monday afternoon.

After the rebel Congress MLAs met the governor, Rane also met Governor Jacob on Monday morning. Sources close to Rane claim he informed the governor that he had dropped the five rebel ministers from his cabinet. The rebels include Dr de Souza, Irrigation Minister Dayanand Narvekar, Transport Minister Subhash Shirodkar, Forest Minister Carmo Pegado and Social Welfare Minister Chandrakant Chodankar.

Of them, Pegado and Chodankar were expelled from the party, along with Deputy Speaker Deu Mandrekar as well as Fatima DíSa and Jagdish Acharya, both MLAs, on Friday. The Congress admitted two UGDP MLAs, Arecio DíSouza and Joaquim Alemao, into the Congress the same day.

Speaking to journalists on Monday afternoon, Dr de Souza said he had split the Congress because, "I was tired of the corruption in the Rane government. I want to give a clean administration to the state."

While several Congress MLAs were unhappy with Raneís leadership, the bone of contention is the CMís decision to readmit Alemao, along with his MLAs, into the Congress on Friday. Alemao left the Congress in 1989, when he toppled the then Rane government with the help of the MGP, backed by the then railways minister George Fernandes.

Dr de Souza, a former chief minister, was known to be upset with Rane after he was sidelined by the party leadership in Panaji and New Delhi. Narvekar, otherwise an adversary of "Dr Willie" -- as Dr de Souza is known in Goa -- aligned with the rebel leader after differences with the chief minister.

The Congress dissidents said they were disgusted with the party leadership in Delhi as the leadership had not acted on their demand that Rane -- who has ruled Goa for more than three and half years -- be replaced.

Monday's assembly session was always expected to be noisy given the circumstances.

Speaker Cardozo said he had received intimation from the chief minister about the five expulsions and two admissions, with a request to make a separate sitting arrangement for the five expelled members while bringing two former UGDP MLAs, who are now in the Congress, onto the treasury benches.

Though the BJP had demanded that the governor direct the speaker to prove Raneís majority on the floor of the House, Cardozo claimed the governor could not direct him to do so. "Only the Business Advisory Committee can change the business of the House," he said.

After Question Hour, the House was scheduled to take up budgetary demands for grants of a few departments for discussion and voting. The government, it was felt, could fall if the demands were not passed.

The speaker, who faces a no confidence motion moved against him by the Opposition -- this was scheduled to be taken up on Wednesday, July 29 -- is not sure what will happen to that motion now.

When the House met on Monday afternoon, the five expelled Congress MLAs were allotted a separate block in the assembly. Leader of the Opposition Dr Kashinath Jhalmi said, that since the assembly was conducting financial business and there was no petition before the speaker for disqualification of the five expelled MLA, there could be no demand for expulsion of the members from the House.

At the start of Question Hour, which was to be followed by financial business, Industries Minister Luizinho Faleiro, a staunch Rane supporter, demanded that the five expelled Congressmen should not be allowed to sit in the House as they stood disqualified under the anti-defection law.

The speaker first adjourned the House for a brief spell, but when he resumed business and called the question, ministers and MLAs supporting Rane demanded action against the five expelled MLAs. He then adjourned the House till Tuesday.

"Mr Rane has no right to sit in the CMís chair since he has failed to transact the financial business slated for the day," Dr de Souza told reporters after the adjournment. "The governor should now use his constitutional powers to act against the paralysed government," he added.

The Congress is now filing disqualification petitions against the five expelled members. The stalemate will continue if the speaker immediately acts upon it by disqualifying the five members of the Goa Rajiv Congress by Tuesday.

Speaker Cardozo, before leaving for Raj Bhavan to brief the governor about the events in the assembly, told reporters that he would not mind taking up a motion of vote of confidence if the governor advises him to do so.

Additional reportage: UNI

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