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Friday, March 1, 2024

The curious case of the resignation of Nilesh Cabral as a Goa Minister

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Goan politics has been famous for its unique phenomenon of ‘political musical chairs’.

Last week, PWD Minister Nilesh Cabral who is also reportedly seen as the young Christian face of the BJP in Goa after the Late Francis D’Souza, resigned from the Goa government to make way for former Congress leader Alex Sequeira who joined the BJP last year along with former Congress Chief Minister of Goa Digambar Kamat and six other MLAs also from the Congress. Alex Sequeira many would know was a minister in the Digambar Kamat-led Congress government. He is also a Goan elected politician embroiled in allegations of having a Portuguese passport, which he has denied vehemently.

Congress leaders in Goa in 2019 and 2022 moved to the BJP believing in the development agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also acknowledging rather grudgingly to work under the leadership of the young Chief Minister of Goa Dr. Pramod Sawant because some of the Congress leaders where ex-Chief ministers or senior ministers of the Goa government at one point in time.

In 2019, 10 Congress MLAs joined the BJP and 2 MLAs from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). Congress leader Chandrakant (Babu) Kavlekar was made Deputy Chief Minister and MGP leader Manohar (Babu) Azgaonkar was also made Deputy Chief Minister. While they believed in the development agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the people of Goa did not believe in them after they defected to the BJP. In the 2022 Goa Assembly elections, only Atanasio (Babush) Monseratte, Jennifer Monseratte, and Nilkanth Halarnkar who joined the Congress won on a BJP ticket. Those MGP leaders who joined BJP lost their elections on a BJP ticket. In 2022, eight Congress MLAs led by Digambar Kamat defected to the BJP. Of course, people in Goa were very disappointed by this move. Their angst about this move of the BJP and Congress leaders will only be known at the Goa Assembly Elections 2027.

People do not have a problem with political leaders joining other political parties in Goa, they are used to it. The real irritation is that politicians content elections on one party symbol, win the elections, and then defect to the party in power in order to stay in power while disregarding the sentiments of the voters who voted for them to represent a particular political party at the elections.

The recent resignation of a BJP loyalist Nilesh Cabral from the post of Cabinet minister in the Dr Sawant-led government reportedly took place to accommodate a commitment made by senior BJP leaders in New Delhi at the party high command to Alex Sequeira, though the new Goa government minister denies joining the BJP over a ministerial berth commitment.

Nilesh Cabral had no choice but to resign because BJP’s top leaders President JP Nadda and Organising Secretary BL Santosh impressed upon him to be the sacrificial lamb in the interest of honouring the party’s commitment to Alex Sequeira. Of course, he was not happy with the decision but as a loyal party worker, he decided to bite the bullet. More importantly, internally there was the decision to replace a Christian minister with another Christian minister to maintain the caste and creed balance played in most political pole-positioning.

Putting Alex Sequeira in the Minister’s saddle is done with the hope and confidence that this Christian minister known to be close to the religious leaders of influence in Goa will help better BJP’s chances in South Goa for Lok Sabha 2024. Salcete, one of the most difficult regions in Goa for the BJP, now gets its first BJP minister in the current government. But will it help the BJP, I doubt? Unfortunately, while there is no doubt that by sheer years of experience, Alex Sequeira would have developed strong and influential connections in the power centers that exist in the state, especially the Christian religious circles, his betrayal of the people by defecting to BJP after being elected as a Congress MLA has left a bad taste with many in the religious circles that he is expected to influence. Alex Sequeira in my personal opinion will not be a strong influence in Lok Sabha 2024, in fact, he could end up being the spoiler of BJP’s chances in South Goa unless BJP balances this move with putting a strong Christian candidate with Hindu voters or a Hindu candidate with Christian voters too.

The resignation of Nilesh Cabral is a double-edged sword for the BJP because of the backdrop of the growth of the BJP in Goa over the last five years. Right now the Goa government is 50 percent of the ministers who were a part of the Digambar Kamat-ruled Congress government from 2007 to 2012. In fact, now, only two ministers, that is Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant and Subash Phaldessai are grassroots-level BJP workers, the rest of the ministers in the BJP government were either Independent or Non-BJP workers, especially from the Congress who joined or defected to the BJP. Even if you look at the MLAs in the Goa government, while most are in BJP, most do not come from the grassroots of the BJP cadre in Goa. That is going to be a problem in the long run for the BJP in Goa because most BJP loyalists are getting disillusioned with the constant infiltration into the party by non-BJP politicians. Some political watchers opine that today in Goa, we do not have the Bharatiya Janata Party but the Bharatiya Congress Party.

The message of the induction of Alex Sequeira into the government is an inspiration for many political leaders in non-BJP parties in Goa. Now to become a minister in Goa in the BJP-ruled government working for Congress Mukt Bharat, you do not need to win an election on the BJP ticket, you simply have to contest the election on a Congress ticket, win the election and then get others to join you in defecting and you will become a BJP minister.

The message of the induced resignation of Nilesh Cabral to keep a commitment of the BJP’s top leadership is a lesson to loyalists in the BJP that sometimes when you are a loyalist in the BJP, you must also accept that Congress Mukt Bharat is not only the removal of the Congress leaders through exposing their corruption or routing them in an election, it is about converting the Congress MLA into BJP MLA while overlooking the cases of crimes of violence and corruption linked with the MLA and rewarding the defected leader with a ministerial portfolio for joining the BJP.

I feel sad for Nilesh Cabral because he stood up for the BJP from the Christian community at a time when it was difficult to be a Christian leader. He won on the BJP symbol for three terms. After a strong Christian leader Late Francis DSouza, Cabral was making good inroads in forging a bridge between the Christian communities and BJP in Goa on the lines of the objectives of Late Manohar Parrikar. But some in the political circles say that he got carried away in his loyalty not realizing that politics is not about loyalty alone but about survival, and sometimes in the survival game, it is the loyalist who gets sacrificed never the opportunist. The central leadership of the BJP made a commitment to Alex Sequeira, internally some political idealogues mooted that a Christian must replace a Christian and not another minister from another caste or creed. However, the decision of the minister to be replaced came from the local government and party leadership and not the central leadership. Alex Sequeira is a rank opportunist. He is not in the BJP because of the core ideology of the BJP, his aim is to retire from politics as a minister in the Goa government. He does not care about the BJP. He cares only about the ministerial position. I see him as the combo of the political leaders Mukul Roy and Babul Suriyo of Bengal who were in the BJP from TMC but they left the BJP when TMC consolidated its power in West Bengal.

The induction of the Congress ministers into ministerial positions is not over yet. The grapevine doing the rounds is that two more are expected to be inducted into the Goa government. The two MLAs are expected to be from South Goa. It is going to be interesting to note the loyalty of the other two ministers who will be replaced, one most likely is to be another grassroots BJP leader.

South Goa is not going to be a cakewalk for the BJP unless Congress shoots itself in the foot by opting for the wrong candidate to represent the party in the Lok Sabha 2024. More so, more political parties contesting could help the BJP if most of them focus on gaining the Christian voter base thereby dividing the Christian voter base, because the BJP will move heaven and earth to consolidate the Hindu voter base in South Goa.

Goa politics, like I said is exciting because of its political musical chairs.

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