Goa regional parties turn coy as Congress, BJP woo them

Panaji: With Goa throwing up a fractured mandate, leaders of smaller parties, who have turned kingmakers, have turned cautious even as both the Congress and the BJP desperately woo them.

The Congress won 17 seats in the 40-member assembly and the ruling BJP 13 seats, a gain and loss of eight seats for each party respectively, when compared to their 2012 performance.

But it is the leaders of parties with fewer seats who are being sought by the Congress and the BJP, especially elected representatives of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward, which have three seats each.

Speaking to IANS, MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar said coalition talks would have to wait.

"We will have to strategise. How can we jump into anything? Coalition talks will happen in their own time," Dhavalikar said, even as political sources told IANS that the MGP leadership, including Dhavalikar, was in touch with both Congress and BJP leaders.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, a former Goa Chief Minister, told the media on Saturday that he was in touch with leaders of regional parties in the hope of cobbling together a coalition.

Sudin Dhavalikar and his brother Deepak were ministers in the BJP-led coalition government for a good part of the last five years but were sacked by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar two months before the February 4 polls were announced after both brothers criticised his leadership.

Goa Forward may have contested the election on an anti-BJP plank but on Thursday its founder member and Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai surprised many when he praised the leadership of Parrikar as Chief Minister of Goa.

After the results were announced on Saturday, the party's President Prabhakar Timble, however, said that all doors were open for Goa Forward as far as being a part of a coalition was concerned.

Interestingly, Timble also claimed that the Congress had backstabbed his party by first promising an alliance with Goa Forward and then backing out from the arrangement on the eve of the polls.

Meanwhile, lone Nationalist Congress Party MLA Churchill Alemao, who has been a part of a Congress-led coalition government from 2007-12, has said he was keen to be a part of a government.

Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh on Saturday told reporters that Alemao was not averse to joining a Congress-led coalition. 

Of the three independent legislators, Rohan Khaunte has said he would back the Congress, if it staked claim to form a government.

"They have supported me during the election. I will go with the Congress," he said.

Independent Govind Gawde said that since the BJP supported him in his campaign, he would be backing the saffron party.

The third independent, Prasad Gaonkar, has been tight-lipped.