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Brazen Moves By MGP On Coalition Chessboard

In a brazen violation of coalition dharma Pandurang Dhavlikar, president of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) has proclaimed himself as party candidate for the upcoming by-election in the Shiroda Assembly constituency. He even launched his campaign on Thursday, meeting his supporters and visiting temples to seek divine blessing. The Shiroda by-election has been necessitated following resignation of Subhash Shirodkar as Congress MLA before he joined the BJP. Shirodkar is certainly going to be the BJP candidate in Shiroda. The MGP had petitioned the Bombay High Court at Goa against Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte (the Congress MLA from Mandrem who too resigned before he joined the BJP) and wanted their motive behind the switch to the BJP be probed and wanted them to be disqualified from contesting the by-poll. The High Court rejected the MGP petition. MGP president Pandurang Dhavlikar now aims to persuade voters of Shiroda to ‘punish’ Shirodkar.

The MGP president’s move obviously creates a problem the BJP leadership has to overcome in order to make Shiroda a direct contest with the Congress. If the MGP has a candidate, the non-Congress vote could be split which can help the Congress candidate. However, the question is: Does the MGP really want to have its candidate in Shiroda or is it a move by the MGP president to get something out of the BJP for himself? PWD Minister Ramkrishna Dhavlikar says no decision to contest by-polls has been taken by the party. But Pandurang Dhavlikar, Ramkrishna’s younger brother, has already ‘announced’ he will fight the Shiroda seat and start a door to door campaign from January 16. The MGP president’s move has prompted the other partner in the government, Goa Forward party to declare that it was also keeping its option on contesting the by-polls open. The MGP’s idea to contest the by-election could trigger trouble for the government as it points to lack of cohesion in the ruling alliance. Art and Culture Minister Govind Gaude, who is an independent MLA and a part of ruling alliance, has termed the MGP’s move as a “blackmailing tactic” aimed at promoting the interest of its leadership.

For the moment the BJP has decided not to take Pandurang Dhavlikar’s announcement seriously. The party has said it will discuss the forthcoming Shiroda and Mandrem by-elections with its alliance partners once the schedule to by-polls is announced by the Election Commission of India. The MGP’s move to announce its entry into electoral battle in Shiroda apparently has come in the wake of the loss of the BJP in the Hindi heartland states. The MGP leadership obviously feels that this was its best opportunity to get a better deal for its leaders. With the BJP not looking as formidable as it did some time ago, the MGP appears to be looking for opportunities to extract major concessions from the party. Sooner or later, the BJP leaders have to have a straight talk with the MGP leadership. If the two allies, the MGP and GFP set up their own candidates in Shiroda and Mandrem it would give advantage to the Congress.

The announcement made by the MGP president that he will contest the by-election is an indication that all is not well in the ruling coalition. Though there have been fissures within the coalition during the existence since the last elections they were settled with little coming out in the public domain. In the recent months, the MGP has openly promoted the idea that being the seniormost member of the state cabinet Ramkrishna Dhavlikar should be named successor to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. The MGP is a party that is virtually owned by the two Dhavlikar brothers. However, there are some traditional MGP and caste votes that have propped up the party leaders for a long time, and that is what gives them the arrogance of challenging the main partner in the ruling alliance. The Dhavlikars have been in power, regardless of which main party is ruling the state. Today’s situation offers them a good opportunity to get the best deal for themselves. Will the BJP take the MGP’s tantrums lying down and concede one of the two seats that have fallen vacant? Any such attempt by the BJP to please one ally might provoke the other to flex its muscles. There are three options before the BJP: One, it lets the MGP fight Shiroda and works to minimize the loss of non-Congress vote; two, it forces MGP president to withdraw his announcement; and three, it strikes a deal with him and gives them what he wants in lieu of withdrawal.

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