Goa Forward Party (GFP) president Vijai Sardesai was perhaps the first to advocate Opposition unity in Goa. He had said, much ahead of the legislative Assembly election, that Opposition parties need to come together as ‘Team Goa’ to take on the BJP in the 2022 Assembly polls. But after the election that he contested as an ally of the Congress, Sardesai is a disillusioned man, who feels that Opposition unity cannot just be a “hashtag” and the Goa Congress’s alliance with his party was “unenthusiastic” and “half-hearted”.
“I am completely disenchanted. Team Goa cannot just be a mirage, it cannot be just a hashtag. It has to be followed up with a lot of action on the ground. There should be sincerity that I feel is lacking at the moment,” Sardesai told The Indian Express on Tuesday.
Now the lone GFP MLA, Sardesai’s party strength in the 40-member House has reduced to one from three in 2017, while the BJP has returned stronger with 20 of its own MLAs and support from five others.
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After its defeat in the recently concluded legislative Assembly election, Congress leaders said the split in Opposition votes had worked to the BJP’s advantage.
In an Opposition space crowded with the Congress, regional parties, AAP and TMC, Sardesai had called for Opposition unity despite the TMC attacking him ahead of the polls and the Congress handing him a raw deal with just three seats for his party to contest.
“Any effort towards unity cannot be half-hearted. It has to be with all your effort to unite people. The Congress’s alliance with us was half-hearted and unenthusiastic. Certainly, a proposed alliance with other parties was something they didn’t even want to think of. Even after being a victim of the TMC’s poaching game, I stood for Opposition unity, including taking the TMC on board…but these guys (Congress) got overconfident and started distributing the spoils of power even before reaching the destination. It was all childish. Unfortunately, the people of the state have to suffer. We, as the Opposition, have failed the people of the state,” Sardesai said.
The tension between Sardesai and former Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar was common knowledge in Goa’s political circles. Chodankar was missing from the photograph that Sardesai shared of him holding hands with Rahul Gandhi when they announced their alliance in December 2021.
Placing the blame squarely on the Goa unit of the Congress, he said, “I, as an alliance partner was not even used anywhere. I am not cribbing about not being used but the fact is collectively our strength should have been well channeled to reach the goal. It did not happen because of the selfish reasons of the state Congress leadership… I wanted to contest more seats but I was not given the seats where I could have won… This was all done in a way that it looked like the state Congress leadership was more interested in cutting me down to size than on winning the election.” He is categorical that his criticism is directed at the state unit of the Congress. “I have no complaints against the national Congress leadership other than the fact that they over-invested in individuals but it is the state Congress leaders who are to blame.”
Sardesai, a three-time MLA, began his political career with the Youth Congress, before being elected as an Independent MLA in 2012 and forming the GFP in 2016. In 2017, after his party supported the BJP to form the government, Sardesai served as a minister in the government led by former Goa CM Manohar Parrikar and later as deputy chief minister after Parrikar’s death in March 2019, when he supported the Pramod Sawant-led government.
Months later, when the BJP got a majority in the House in July 2019 following the defection of 12 MLAs from the Congress and the MGP, Sardesai and two other GFP MLAs were dropped from the government. Over the last three years, his has been among the harshest voices of opposition in the state.
Ahead of the election, the TMC got GFP working president Kiran Kandolkar to cross over to its side – he is now Goa TMC president – and also gave an election ticket to a ‘winnable’ candidate from the GFP after the Congress denied the St Andre seat to Sardesai’s party. The TMC has often targeted Sardesai for allying with the BJP in 2017, calling him the “betrayer in chief”.
“Our turbulent relationship with the TMC began when they offered me the leadership of TMC (in Goa). When I refused, they attacked me… But I don’t think it has had much effect…TMC took Goans for granted. They did not understand the situation on the ground and they made a big mistake, lost a lot of money and support which was earlier enthusiastically coming to them,” said Sardesai.
His evident disappointment with the Congress post-elections has led to speculation that Sardesai may shift his loyalties. While Sardesai has said he is going nowhere, when asked if he would remain in the Opposition for the next five years, he said, “It is too early to comment on any of this”. Pointing out that he has spent eight of his decade-long political journey in the Opposition, he added, “I am not scared of being in the Opposition”.
Source: india Express