Catholic politicians strengthen pro-Hindu party in Goa

Members of the Congress party who switched to the ruling BJP have been branded turncoats and opportunists
Catholic politicians strengthen pro-Hindu party in Goa

Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, A.K. Antony and others protest on July 11, accusing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of engineering defections of their party members in the states of Goa and Karnataka. (IANS photo) reporter, Panaji
July 12, 2019
Eight Catholic politicians were among 10 legislators in India's Goa state who deserted the opposition Congress party to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The July 10 defections boosted the pro-Hindu party's hold on power in the 40-seat state legislature by giving it 27 seats in all.

The opposition Congress, which won 17 seats in 2017 elections, was thereby reduced to five seats. Two of them had earlier also joined the BJP.

"This is a crisis not for Congress but for Goa as the Congress legislators have broken the trust that the voters reposed in them and joined the BJP," said Father Victor Ferrao, a seminary teacher. "Sometimes principles are dumped for pragmatism. Today politics kills democracy in the very name of democracy."

Catholics play a crucial political role in the state, a former Portuguese colony on India's west coast. Some 25 percent of its 1.4 million people are Christians, almost all of them Catholics.

The defecting legislators told media that the switch was to ensure there are development projects for their local areas such as improved roads and water supplies.

Father Eremito Rebelo, a social activist, admitted that jobs and welfare programs were being "dished out" predominantly to constituents from the ruling party. The constituencies of Congress legislators were being ignored, he complained.

However, he questioned the logic of changing their party allegiance for this reason alone. The former Congress members should have instead fought against "political favoritism" as opposition members of Goa's legislature. After all, tax was collected from everyone, irrespective of their party loyalties, Father Rebelo said.

"If they were Christians by faith, they would not have done this," the priest added. "It shows the shallowness of the Christian values within them." 

The BJP won only 15 seats in the house against 17 for Congress. Yet the BJP in a post-poll alliance joined with a local party with three seats as well as with three independent candidates to form government with a 21-seat simple majority.

"We need another political system," said parishioner Shirley Peres. "Now, even if you elect a non-BJP member, the BJP makes him their own."

However, political observers say the move will not augur well for the BJP because it has upset original BJP legislative members aspiring to rise through the ranks to obtain ministerial positions.

BJP leaders indicated there will be a reshuffle in the state cabinet to offer ministerial roles to some of the newcomers, something that could anger sitting ministers who consequently lose their jobs.

An anti-defection law allows for mergers if two-thirds of the elected members of a party join with another party.

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