By Antonio V Franscisco Fernandes
The monsoon session of the Goa Legislative Assembly is on. With the opposition yet to take off, it looks to be a tame affair. The opposition has to be strong if a democracy is to function properly.
Strong does not imply that it has to be obstructive or destructive. The best situation is when the opposition is firm, persistent, vibrant and yet constructive: a sign of hope to those who are not happy with the government, to those who are looking for future alternatives. It doesn’t have to depend on numbers. One man can make the difference as has been amply shown in the past. In our present assembly, we are still looking for that one man. However, I must admit, that at least two legislators have shown some potential so far.
The government has been doing quite well till now. And the honeymoon phase with the people is still on. Nevertheless, the opposition members must look around with eagle eyes to find out people’s problems and point them out in the assembly. Perhaps the opposition MLAs, especially the ones who were ministers in the last government, are afraid that for every finger that they point out, three fingers may point back at them. Such a condition makes the opposition ineffective. But it can also make the government complacent, rather than keeping it on its toes. The end result is a government that is not at its best, and therefore the people do not receive the best.
Goa has never had a dearth of leaders in the opposition for the last forty-eight-and-half years since the first assembly was elected in December 1963. The greatest of them was the Leader of Opposition in Goa’s first Legislative Assembly, Dr Jack de Sequeira. The numerical division was ideal for the house, eighteen on the ruling side and twelve in the opposition. Dr Sequeira was not only an opposition leader in the house, but also outside the house among the people because the issues on the agenda were very crucial to Goa and its future. Goa’s first chief minister, Dayanand Bandodkar was also a leader of the masses. The issue of Goa’s merger with Maharashtra was of epical proportions and the pro and anti-merger leaders, Bandodkar and Sequeira, were also looked upon as larger than life by the people.
Dr Sequeira continued to be the leader of the opposition till the time of split in his United Goans Party during the third term of the assembly in mid nineteen-seventies, and even after that as an eminent leader of his own group and of the Janata Party from 1977 to 1979. That was the longest stint of any opposition leader in Goa stretching over sixteen years, and Dr Sequeira played it to the hilt.
Anant Narcinva Naik, of United Goans Party and later the Congress Party, was an effective opposition leader in the second half of nineteen-seventies. Madhv R Bir, elected on the Janata Party ticket from Panaji in 1977, also played an effective role in the opposition during his short tenure of two years. When the Congress captured power in 1980, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party was reduced to seven MLAs, and further to just two after a group of five deserted the party to join the ruling Congress. Ramakant Khalap led his MGP group of two in a thirty member house, playing a significant opposition role. The opposition ranks swelled in 1983 when Dr Wilfred de Souza formed the Goa Congress with nine MLAs, having split from the Congress, which he had led to victory for the first time in Goa. Luizinho Faleiro and Herculano Dourado became the leading voices of the opposition though Dr Wilfred was the leader. It must be noted that Dr Wilfred has not been as much of a vocal opposition leader in the Assembly as he has been outside of it, performing political operations to change governments with surgical skills.
The December 1984 elections brought in the independent MLA Uday Bhembre, known for his oratory, and MGP MLA Dr Kashinath Jalmi, known for his sharp criticism. Both these new MLAs, along with Luizinho Faleiro and Ramakant Khalap, played a leading role in opposition to the ruling Congress. In fact, Khalap and Jalmi raised the pitch for the MGP so much that their party almost won the November 1989 elections.
After the 1989 Assembly elections, defections and manipulations became the order of the day. We had so many chief ministers and opposition leaders during the nineteen nineties. Nothing significant happened during this period. In November 1994, the Bharatiya Janata Party entered the assembly. Manohar Parrikar began to make his mark in the opposition benches. He achieved high ratings as an opposition leader. When Parrikar became the chief minister in 2000, Dayanand Narvekar became one of the leading voices in the opposition. Pratapsing Rane was never impressive as the leader of the opposition. When the Congress came back to power in 2005, Parrikar once again played the role of the leader of opposition, winning for himself the people’s acclaim and subsequently a victory in March 2012.
As a tailpiece, I must mention Matanhy Saldanha, who was a natural opposition leader all his life. But he never played the opposition role in the assembly as he was on the side of the ruling BJP during his membership of the assembly, and was disqualified by the speaker when the Congress came to power midway. His disqualification was set aside by the judiciary subsequently, but we missed his voice in the opposition ranks in the assembly.
The opposition in Goa needs to be revived after a short lull. Those who have shown the potential must rise to the occasion. As in the past, the people of Goa will not only applaud but will reward them at the right time.