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Bad habits return with Congress

February 08, 2005 17:02 IST

Sports fans should thank the gods of cricket that it was B G Jerling and Simon Taufel who stood as umpires in the South Africa-England One Day International on February 2. Can you imagine what would have happened had it been His Excellency S C Jamir who presided over that encounter.

Mercifully for the reputation of cricket -- but not quite as happily for democracy in Goa -- Jamir was busy on the other side of the sea. Jerling and Taufel were content to obey the laws, and declare a tie. Jamir would have smiled sweetly, then summoned his favoured captain to his house after the match, and then told the media that he had decided off his own bat that only one side deserved to win.

Quite frankly, every party in the Goa mess has come out drenched in the stench of the gutter -- which is precisely where the politics of the state has descended. If the BJP now speaks of democracy being throttled by the Congress, well, all I can say is that the rope was provided by that party itself.

The Manohar Parikkar ministry had come under the sword thanks to an MLA's decision to cross the floor. It won the subsequent vote of confidence in the assembly only because the Speaker, Vishwas Satarkar, decided to disqualify Independent MLA, Philip Neri Rodrigues, on some technicality. An enraged Rodrigues had to be removed physically by the staff after he refused to leave the chamber on his own.

I have to say that at this point all my sympathies were with the Congress, and the party was well within its right when it said it would challenge Rodrigues' disqualification. Little did I know what His Excellency the governor had in mind.

The first hint of the travesty to follow came when the then Leader of the Opposition, Pratap Sinh Rane, appeared at the gates of Raj Bhavan to announce that the governor had kicked out the Parikkar administration. There was an excellent case for arguing that the Parikkar ministry -- aided by Vishwas Satarkar -- had acted in bad faith.

Jamir might even have been believed had he said that he saw no option under the circumstances but to dismiss such a government. But the governor gave the game away when he sent Rane, rather than one of his own aides, to say so to the world.

Worse followed as Rane was then hauled back inside the gubernatorial mansion to take the oath of office as chief minister. Rodrigues, the only other man to take the oath under the cover of darkness, was made deputy chief minister.

Interestingly, while Jamir was unwilling to give Manohar Parikkar a single week to face the assembly, he has not even bothered to set any time limit for Rane. The new chief minister need not, it seems, bother to prove his majority until the time comes to present the Budget (which is about six weeks off).

That should give Congress managers enough time to cobble together a majority. It is already backed by the Nationalist Congress Party, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the United Goans Democratic Party, and an Independent MLA. I can't remember the last time that the Congress won an absolute majority in an election in Goa.) This, by the way, is Rane's fifth stint as chief minister.

I am writing this on the morning after this travesty took place, but reports are already coming in that Jamir's decision surprised at least some people in Delhi though not all. The governor was in such a rush to put Rane into the chief minister's chair that he supposedly forgot to inform the Government of India. The prime minister, some say, was as taken aback by the midnight drama as the rest of us. The mood at Congress headquarters, however, was one of quiet satisfaction at a mission accomplished.

This brings up a curious fact. Can anyone recall another such instance of a governor overstepping his bounds between 1998 and 2005? The last time it happened was when Romesh Bhandari put Jagdambika Pal in office after hastily dismissing Kalyan Singh, but the prime minister of the time was the hapless I K Gujral. It has taken less than a year after the Congress came to power in Delhi for the old bad habits to be restored.

Sonia Gandhi's commitment to democratic norms is a larger issue which we must debate another day. The issue that confronts us today is Goa. To my mind, the only solution is President's Rule followed by polls at the earliest date. But before that, S C Jamir must be booted out for throwing pails of manure on the Constitution.

I cannot end without one final thought: Is the drama in Goa only a dress rehearsal before there is a similar upheaval in Uttar Pradesh?

T V R Shenoy