'Across the political spectrum, especially from the side of the NDA itself, there is complete disillusionment (with the way the BJP is treating its allies).'
'This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.'
In a warning of sorts, Vijai Sardesai, who was 'unceremoniously sacked' as Goa's deputy chief minister by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant -- after 10 Congress MLAs defected and merged into the Bharatiya Janata Party taking its tally to 27 in the 40-member assembly -- says the BJP high command must take corrective action or lose relevance in Goa politics.
Sardesai, the Fatorda MLA who formed the Goa Forward Party just before the 2017 assembly election, was once in the Congress, then in the BJP, before charting an independent political course.
"'The BJP high command has to do a serious rethink otherwise Goa is gone from them forever," Sardesai tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore in an exclusive, hard hitting, interview.
What was the promise made by then chief minister Manohar Parrikar to the Goa Forward Party before you became allies and part of the government when he was alive?
The promise was to keep the people who were responsible to form his government as part of the ruling alliance for the whole term. His party would not try to gobble up other parties.
And this promise has been broken from Day One by the present dispensation (Chief Minister Pramod Sawant).
Was the current chief minister present when Mr Parrikar promised this to you? Who were the people present then?
No, he was nowhere on the scene. He was nowhere involved or instrumental in the making of his (Parrikar's) government nor was he part of any confabulation that happened.
The people who were present at that meeting were people who were with Parrikar, his close people all of whom have been gotten laid off now.
Now all of them and his (Parrikar's) legacy are being systematically dismantled by the present dispensation.
Even his son Utpal Parrikar was not given the ticket to contest the Panjim by-election after his death.
There is some sort of ethnic cleansing happening; that is what the BJP cadres are saying now and believing.
Ethnic cleansing? Could you please elaborate?
I don't want to sound alarmist, but that is what the BJP cadres are saying. That a particular section of society is being targeted by this dispensation.
Please make a note of this point that these are not my words. This is what the BJP cadre is saying.
They have even started a 'Pramod Sawant Get Well Soon' campaign.
You said the 'anti-defection law is being killed in this assembly' on the floor of the House. Why do you think this is happening? What has led to this situation in Goa?
It is happening because of the callousness and the brute majority which makes people in power feel that dissent is not the essence of democracy.
Dissent is the essence of democracy. You have to have an active Opposition; you cannot gobble up everybody and say that whatever I say is the rule.
When you don't respect democratic tenets laid down in the Constitution, then this is where you reach.
And this is where we have reached because the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which deals with the anti-defection law is being made into a legal arrangement to encourage defections.
The 2015 Amendment (to the anti defection law), which says that two-thirds of a legislative party is required to defect also makes it necessary that there should be split in the parent party.
So, where is the parent party splitting? Has the Congress party split (in Goa)?
Once that happens, the 2015 Amendment necessitates that the entire legislative party at the general body meeting should unanimously vote to merge the split party into another party, which is the BJP in this case.
Who has taken this decision (to have the MLAs who split from the Congress merge with the BJP)?
Has the parent party defected? No. It is only the MLAs (of the parent party, Congress) who have defected.
This selective interpretation of the Amendment of the Tenth Schedule of 2015 is killing democracy in India.
Even the speaker did not object to this merger.
No! (The) speaker's role in this (merger of the defected Congress MLAs into the BJP) is very, very, suspicious.
This happened in Telangana where the Congress did not oppose it; it happened in Goa in the case of the Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP; Manohar Ajgaonkar and Dipak Pauskar, two of the three MLAs of the MGP, also a BJP ally, split and merged with the BJP leaving behind party founder Sudhin Dhavalikar, and the then deputy chief minister, who has filed a petition with the speaker and opposed the merger and is also planning to take the matter to the Bombay high court or the Supreme Court in case the speaker doesn't resolve the matter; Dhavalikar was present with Sardesai when this interview was recorded); and now the same is happening to the Congress in Goa.
The MGP is fighting this out in court. Two of the MLAs from the MGP too have been gobbled up by the BJP in Goa.
Why do you wish the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognisance of the issue?
See, there are four pillars of democracy and if the legislature and the executive don't take any measures to save democracy, then the Supreme Court (the judiciary, the third pillar of democracy) has to take suo moto cognisance of it.
Otherwise, you will reach an arrangement in which two-thirds (of MLAs of any political party sensing an opportunity) will always defect.
The wholesale defection, of which (journalist) Rajdeep Sardesai made a mention of in his column the other day, will become the trend.
Rather than an exception, it will become the rule. Which is why this is a strong case (for the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognisance of these defections), and also makes for a strong case to have the clauses of the Tenth Schedule implemented in letter and spirit.
Why don't you file a petition in the Supreme Court challenging this merger?
My party has not split. Sudhin Dhavalikar's party has been affected and he is taking legal recourse.
Are you worried about your and your party's future in Goa?
I am not worried about my party or myself. I am worried about the future of Goa.
Goa is getting a bad name. Instead of aaya Ram, gaya Ram (a saying that was once prevalent during the 1960s to describe blatant horse trading and defections of elected lawmakers), we will have aaya Monserrate, gaya Monseratte (Atanasio 'Babush' Monserrate, the Panaji MLA has a history of defections; elected as a Congress MLA, he has now defected to the BJP; though he has not been made a minister, his wife Jennifer Monseratte, the Congress MLA from Taleigao who also defected to the BJP, has been made a minister).
I don't want Goa's name to be spoiled and Goa becoming synonymous with murky defections.
We are famous for many good things. Why should we be famous for wholesale defections? That's my only concern.
Are you seeing the BJP's ever-increasing political power across India as a threat to smaller regional parties?
The BJP cadre is Goa is disillusioned. It is no longer a party with a difference.
The chief minister (Sawant) is on record saying that politics is about power when the founding fathers of the BJP, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyay and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had always held that power by any means is not the principle that the BJP follows. They were principled people.
Our chief minister, in his urge to gain absolute power, and without any provocation from any of his allies (read the Goa Forward Party) has just resorted to abrasive and arrogant politics (by sacking the three GFP ministers).
He has also misled his party leadership to gobble up the Opposition and his own allies, leaving other NDA allies with a deep sense of distrust and uncertainty about their future in the alliance.
If this has happened to me, it can happen to the Akalis (the BJP's NDA ally in Punjab); it can happen to the Shiv Sena (the BJP's NDA ally in Maharashtra where the two parties share a blow-cold-blow-hot relationship).
You visited Delhi after the defection drama played out in Goa and were thrown out of the Goa government. Did you meet any NDA allies there?
There is a sense of utter shock and disbelief about the fact that the person responsible for installing them (the BJP) in power (in Goa) is today sacked so unceremoniously without any provocation.
Which NDA allies did you meet in Delhi?
I don't want to name any names, but by-and-large, across the political spectrum, especially from the side of the NDA itself, there is complete disillusionment (with the way the BJP is treating its allies). This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
Alliances are about trust and about the respect of the word (which, Sardesai says, then Goa CM Manohar Parrikar gave him when he joined the BJP government when he was alive).
How did the Goa CM treat you when you were deputy CM? Did you ever feel that he would turn the tables on you so smartly?
We shared the most cordial relationship. But now it is slowly coming out that he harboured some deep insecurity from people smarter, sharper than him and with better political acumen than his. He has got rid of people who were performing nicely in the present government.
It is his personal insecurity that led to his sacking me and the ministers from the GFP. His cadre is also flummoxed.
We were supposed to be the BJP's most dependable allies, not only during his term but also during Mr Parrikar's time. I least expected this from him.
Did you meet with senior BJP leaders like Nitin Gadkari and Amit Shah, with whom you supposedly share a good rapport during your Delhi tour?
I was in touch with the BJP national president (before this merger of Congress MLAs into the BJP) and I think he was quite aware (of what is happening in Goa).
What was Amit Shah's reaction?
I met him before this sordid drama happened in Goa and he said he was keeping a close watch on the situation in Goa. He told me that everything will be discussed with me and only then it (the merger with the defected Congress MLAs) will be done.
Not only that, we had indication from his (Shah's) office to not put in our papers and then things would be resolved amicably.
Are you planning to meet Amit Shah now that you have been sacked as deputy chief minister?
Now the belling of the cat has to happen from their end. He has to decide if we were rightly or wrongly thrown out. It is for them to decide.
People must remember that politics is always dynamic. Things don't remain the same for long.
Could you bank upon Mr Gadkari or Mr Shah to call you up and discuss what happened to you and your party?
I don't know. But I think that political morality, especially for a party in power, is an important ingredient of public trust.
I think the BJP high command has to do a serious rethink on this whole issue otherwise Goa is gone from them (the BJP) forever.
They may have their government for the next two, three years, but by-and-large they have lost the plot and the trust of Goans.
Chadrakant Kavalekar of the Congress had once asked you to break your alliance with the BJP and help Congress form a government in Goa. At that time you had steadfastly refused to do so. Now he has taken your position as deputy chief minister by defecting from the Congress.
Do you regret refusing the Congress's offer now?
Yes, he had approached me. There was an offer to me from the Congress to become the chief minister. I rejected that proposal because I was committed to this (BJP-GFP) alliance and had given my word to Mr Parrikar.
I was the founding father of that alliance and nobody wants to kill his own baby.
I will take a final call on what to do next only after the BJP high command takes a final call on this drama in Goa.
I feel they are also facing a problem within, although forces here are trying to mask the issue. But that is not the end of this.
There is large scale disillusionment and disenchantment within the cadre and you will soon see how it shapes up if there is no honourable resolution.
Are BJP cadres reportedly looking at the 15 Christian MLAs of the 27 they have with suspicion?
I don't think it is the community, but it is the background of the individual (Atanasio Monseratte).
The same individual they had attacked for various acts of omission and commission have been given a Ganga-snaan (bathed with water from the Ganga) and made them saint-like. That sort of impression created by the chief minister is being ridiculed here.
Would you have any message for the BJP high command?
They must realise that whatever has happened in Goa is not a sign of defeat or surrender.
Every human being makes a mistake, but realisation of that mistake and taking corrective steps can only help you reclaim your public popularity and your relevance in politics.
If they don't do it, then they are endorsing unethical political practices in the state.