'Congress has ditched me twice before': Vijai Sardesai of Goa Forward explains why he has backed BJP

Pamela D’Mello

In January, Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party told an interviewer that his “single first objective was to oust” the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party from power. The saffron party, he said, was running an “ anti-people government” and its one-time chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, who had since moved on to become the Union defence minister, had no credibility.

When the results of the assembly elections came in on Saturday night, Goa Forward was rewarded with three seats in the 40-member house. No party had a majority. While the Congress bagged 17 seats, the BJP won 13 and the Nationalist Congress Party got one. The BJP’s former ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, won three and voters backed three independents.

On Saturday night, many expected the Congress to form the government with the support of Goa Forward and some of the independent candidates. But on Sunday, the BJP pulled off a surprise when it announced that Parrikar would return to the state to become chief minister in a government that had obtained the support of Goa Forward, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the three independents.

Goa Forward supporters were shocked by the party’s decision, but Sardesai said he had made a pragmatic decision. “People have reservations about what I have done,” he admitted to Scroll.in. “...But all these reservations that people have in their mind, I will prove by my actions, not words that what I have done was right.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you decide to ally with the BJP?
The Goa Forward Party which I lead had to take a stand – choosing between the BJP or the Congress. Now one thing is that although they [the Congress] are the single largest party, [BJP leader] Nitin Gadkari has told you all yesterday [Sunday], many of its leaders are in touch with them to resign and support the BJP. This was one factor.

Two, there was no unanimity about their leadership. There is utter confusion in their legislature wing. I felt that being with them I would have eventually felt suffogated. So we decided to take a proactive role to form a government that would ensure that our agenda of Goem, Goemkar and Goemkarponn [Goa,Goans and Goaness] is implemented through backing from the centre. Because the BJP has its government at the Centre and we want to now prove by action, not only by words, that we will implement our agenda. We will never betray our agenda.

But the BJP is a national party whom you have criticised for nationalising Goa’s rivers.
They may be a national party. But we are going to work on the basis of a common minimum programme, which we will formulate within one month of the government being formed.

You contested on a secular, anti-saffron platform. Your supporters feel betrayed.
I contested against the BJP. And the Congress was the B team of the BJP. Now the choice was between the A team and the B team. I decided to go with the A team. In Fatorda, the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress were together with the only intention to get rid me. Now only because we three are crucial for government formation, we become important.

You have been a vocal critic of the BJP.
I have been a vocal critic of the BJP. People have reservations about what I have done. My own family members are critical over what I have done. My major support base is not happy with what I have done. But all these reservations that people have in their mind, I will prove by my actions, not words that what I have done was right and in the interest of Goem, Goenkar and Goenkarponn. Eventually. At the moment it does not look nice. Later on, you will eventually believe that what we have done is right.

Your party President Prabhakar Timble has resigned, saying you all were elected on an anti-BJP plank and the Congress should have been your first choice. What made you change your mind? You were in touch with the Congress.
I am in touch with the Congress for the last five years. They are in touch with me even now. But when they backstabbed me, none of them are available on the phone. So what to do about that?

Timble said your decision was abrupt and abrasive.
I did not take a decision in haste. We waited and waited and [Congress leader] Luizinho [Faleiro] goes to every so-called secular friend of mine and makes them phone me and makes them talk about secularism. When would this end? It would end only when you make Luizinho Faleiro the chief minister. Now let him sit in the opposition and fight Parrikar. I want to see how they do that. They want me to fight him and they will watch the fun. Now you sit [in Opposition] and you fight him. And we will watch the fun.

So it boils down to a personal animosity between Luizinho Faleiro and yourself?
In ten years they have ditched me twice. After the first time, it has now become habitual backstabbing.

What happened with the negotiations with the Congress?
I cannot disclose everything that came out of the negotiations, but the negotiations were reaching a dead end. There was no sense in that negotiation. It was a one-sided negotiation. There are four ex chief ministers in their legislative wing. All those four ex chief ministers want to become the next chief minister.

Were you backing one particular person in the Congress Legislature Party for chief ministership?
When our views were asked we had preference towards one person. But we are nobody to choose their legislative wing leader.

It is learnt that all three Goa Forward Party MLA elects will be made ministers. What are the ministries you have been offered?
Let the chief minister declare that. It is his prerogative. I cannot declare what he is supposed to say.

It’s been reported that you are getting the Town and Country Planning portfolio. Is that true?
I don’t know. I have not asked for anything specific.

What would you not compromise on in the common minimum programme?
Many things. The first thing is the coconut tree would once again become a tree. It won’t be a grass. I have strong views on The Madhya Pradesh Sound Act, which says you can’t play music (in public places) after 10 pm.

Would river nationalisation figure in your common minimum programme?
Yes. Many things would figure. Even the Investment Promotion Board rules needs to be tightened up. You can’t just make a mockery, bring in any and every industry. Or allow polluting industry in the garb of investment [and employment]. Employment for whom? Eighty percent jobs locals in the private sector should somehow be implemented.

You said you would play the role of a watchdog in the government.
I will play the role of a watchdog in the government. My experience with working with the BJP is completely new. I have never worked with them. But I have observed Parrikar from the Opposition benches. Although I have been a big critic of his, I also appreciate some of his qualities, which I find completely missing in the Congress. In the Congress leadership, there is nobody who is hardworking, studies matters and works deligently. Which he certainly does. Even if you are a critic of his [Parrikar], you will accept that he is hardworking.

And do you expect Parrikar to listen to you?
He has to listen to the common minimum programme, The CMP will be the backbone of his government.

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