Atanasio Monserrate, a known party hopper, has done it again. After hobnobbing with the Congress for some time, the former legislator has switched to the Goa Forward Party (GFP), leaving Congress leaders backing him as party candidate against Manohar Parrikar in the upcoming Panaji by-poll red faced. The happiest man must be Parrikar. Until yesterday, if All India Congress Committee secretary in-charge A Chellakumar was to be believed, Monserrate was proposing toppling of the Parrikar government with the Congress and GFP coming together to make Vijay Sardessai chief minister during the time when Parrikar was away in the US recently. Today, he is on the Parrikar’s side.
It remains to be seen how long Monserrate lasts in the GFP. Since 2002, when he first became an MLA on a UGDP (United Goans Democratic Party) ticket, he has never been with a party for a full five-year term. He switched over to the BJP in 2003, only to desert it in 2005 and join the Congress. He remained a Congress MLA for two years and was re-nominated by the Congress in the 2007 election. But he ditched the Congress at the last moment and rejoined the UGDP and won the election. In the Assembly he threw his weight behind Parrikar, only to ditch him and join the Congress. He won in 2012 on a Congress ticket from St Cruz but fell out with the party in 2015. He floated a new party in 2016 and contested the Panaji assembly seat in 2017 on its symbol but lost. After losing, he began to make efforts to return to the Congress and fight the Panaji by-poll against Manohar Parrikar as a Congress candidate. Opinions were divided in the Congress whether it would be beneficial to the party to re-admit him into the party and nominate him for the Panaji seat. Finally, the group favouring him won the day, and Monserrate got the high command clearance too. Monserrate told the media his election campaign in Panaji was on. Meetings of Congress leaders were held at his residence at his initiative for discussing how to take on Parrikar. What went wrong? Why did he ditch the Congress and join the GFP?
The shocked Congress leaders are making interesting revelations now: A proposal for toppling the Parrikar-led government was initiated by Vijay Sardessai and Monserrate was acting as his agent. Monserrate approached the Congress leaders claiming to be speaking on behalf of Sardesai. The primary condition of the proposal was that Luizinho Faleiro be replaced as Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president. The other condition was that none of the senior Congress leaders or legislators should head the GPCC. Sardesai through Monserrate even gave the party a shortlist of ‘Congress leaders’ from which the party could select one to head the GPCC. Faleiro was replaced with Shantaram Naik, but the Congress did not accept the later condition. Sardesai and Monserrate also insisted that Congress ticket for Rajya Sabha vacancy should be given to one of the GFP leaders. The Congress did not agree to this condition. Nor did the Congress agree to support Sardesai as chief minister. Monserrate was hoping to make a jump to grab a ministerial berth if the toppling game succeeded. As that did not materialize, he decided to join Sardesai. That would open up opportunities for him to expect a big reward from Parrikar.
Monserrate’s decision to join the GFP has handed over Parrikar an easy victory. However, the sailing in a by-election might not be easy for Monserrate. No doubt his record of success, despite his ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ style of politics, is bewildering, but it must also be remembered that every election is a new challenge and result can be unpredictable. There are two constituencies, Taleigao and St Cruz, the first represented by Monserrate’s wife and the second by a personal loyalist, they say he could choose from. The fact that both of them belong to the Congress cannot be ignored. A majority of the people in the two constituencies have voted for the Congress. Will they vote for a candidate who ditched the party they voted for? Secondly, it has to be seen whether the BJP voters in the constituency Monserrate fights his by-election from would whole-heartedly support him. However, what happens to the Congress is more important than what happens to an individual politician. Will the Congress learn a lesson from Monserrate’s switchover? Will his unofficial allies, friends and well-wishers in the Congress be told to be wiser the next time they promote anyone outside the party? Will the Congress start building itself up organizationally in the capital city at last?