Debating India


A carnival of greed

Tuesday 5 April 2005, by DESOUZA*Peter Ronald

There’s no reason to be surprised. Political parties in the land of fish, feni and football have been undermining democracy for over a decade.

Democracy in Goa has indeed been murdered. L K Advani got it right when he said so but, like all things Advani, he spoke only half a truth. For not only should he have blamed Governor S C Jamir for what has happened in Goa, he should also have blamed Speaker Vishwas Satarkar, and not only the Speaker but also the two political parties, the BJP and Congress, for the politics of defection that they have so brazenly practised these last 15 years.

Democracy was not killed in a day. It has died of multiple injuries. The prime accused in this murder are the BJP and Congress, for they have systematically, and in a pre-meditated manner, gone about undermining each of the main institutions of democracy in Goa: the Offices of the Speaker and the Governor; the Assembly; the principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet; and most consistently and shamelessly the party system. If what the Speaker did-having an MLA evicted before the vote of confidence so that his party would not lose-was gross, then listen to this story of 1990 when it all, in a sense, began.

Congress Speaker Luis Proto Barbosa himself defected within a few months of the Assembly elections to form the Goan People’s Party (GPP) and thereby became Chief Minister for nine and a half months. This necessitated the appointment of a member, Kashinath G Jhalmi, as Speaker under Para 6(1) of the Anti-Defection Act relating to defection of a Speaker. Jhalmi took over nine months to give his decision, which coincided with the life of the Barbosa government. During this time he was Law Minister in the same Barbosa Cabinet! He gave his verdict disqualifying Barbosa after his party the MGP, which was in coalition government with the GPP, parted ways with the GPP.

If the above case illustrates disregard for democratic propriety then try and make sense of this second case. Tomazinho Cardozo became a Congress Speaker amid controversy on January 16, 1995. In the secret ballot held to elect the Speaker, the legislature staff counted 20 votes for Surendra Sirsat and 19 votes for Cardozo, with one vote invalid. After some manipulation by pro-tem Speaker Zuwarkar, a Congress member, the vote was declared a tie because one vote for Sirsat was also declared invalid. Hence fresh elections were called for, this time involving a show of hands. Cardozo was declared elected through a voice vote where the Opposition did not participate.

During Cardozo’s term in office, Pratapsingh Rane filed a petition against Wilfred D’Souza and four others who had defected on July 27, 1998. Cardozo gave his interim order, ex-parte, on July 28, within 24 hours of the petition being filed, disqualifying the defectors, and his final order on July 29, within 48 hours. Not only was there unseemly haste in the decision but there was also violation of the simple principle of natural justice where those charged should be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard before a judgement, especially when one that is adverse to them is being passed.

A sense of deja vu. This is just one case of partisan Speakership. In other cases Speakers have done the opposite, taken months to give their verdict. Haroon Sheik Hassan took more than two and a half years, from January 4, 1992, till September 15, 1994, to dismiss a petition.

The scene changes but the grim story continues in the third episode. Governor Bhanu Prakash Singh dismissed Wilfred D’Souza as Chief Minister and swore in Ravi Naik in 1994, even though the former had not lost the support of his party nor the majority in the Assembly. The reasons for the Governor’s action appear unclear. Since he did not inform President Shankar Dayal Sharma and seek his approval, his decision was considered a grave impropriety and hence he was recalled. Naik remained Chief Minister for two days, after which D’Souza came back. Ironically this happened on April 1, 1994. From 1990 to 2004 the size of the Cabinet grew from six to 14.

The BJP then bettered this decade of Congress perfidy. Parrikar of the BJP excelled in splitting the Congress and supporting breakaway factions. In episode four, he supported the Sardinha government (ex-Congress) and when the CM was away on holiday in Australia (our MLAs love holidaying abroad), toppled the government and became the Chief Minister himself. The Governor now was the BJP appointee Kidar Nath Sahni. Parrikar proved to the Congress that anything they could do, he could do better. He split his alliance partners, the UGDP and MGP, in 2003 and absorbed the rump into the BJP with, of course, the blessings of the high command.

But it is during this phase of so-called ?good governance’ that we hit new lows. Parrikar as CM issued a legal notice on September 30, 2003, for defamation to major daily newspapers in Goa to refrain from publishing any further or other defamatory pieces or statements made by the President of the GPCC or by any person. So much for respecting a free Press. As evidence of ?good governance’ Parrikar (i) handed over the Town and Country Planning portfolio to Atanasio Monserrate, the MLA at the centre of the present imbroglio, who he now accuses of corruption; (ii) obliged Monserrate by issuing a notification to convert part of Monserrate’s Taleigao constituency, which is within the Panjim Municipal Council area, a panchayat area and then included other panchayat areas, from Congress constituencies, to form a larger Panjim Municipal Corporation in August 2002; (iii) supported Monserrate in breaking the Congress in August 2004 by inducing one of their MLAs, Isidore Fernandes, to resign from the Assembly and re-contest under a BJP ticket, the first case in Independent India of defection under the 91st Amendment. Fernandes was then rewarded with chairmanship of the Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC). Three months later Fernandes resigned and is now back in Rane’s cabinet. In August 2004 Rane had called him a ?turncoat’. Even the 91st Amendment cannot stop these turncoats. Interestingly Parrikar welcomed Micky Pacheco back to the BJP in end January 2005. Within 48 hours Pacheco defected saying he did not want to stab Parrikar in the back, as the latter was wont to do, but in the front.

To understand why this is happening we need not just the tools of history but also of political economy. For what we are witnessing is a struggle between political institutions and process, a struggle where the necessary conditions of political convention, of political custom and social shame, which help keep the lust for power within acceptable bounds, are absent. Goan politics is a conundrum. We will continue to have such base politics unless we embark on the road of political reform and political parties adopt a code of conduct which prohibits them from rewarding defectors.

The writer is Senior Fellow, CSDS, and Member, Expert Panel of the Inter Parliamentary Union on Parliaments and Democracy

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