Could Vijay Sardesai merge with Cong? Goa abuzz as move may help both sides

With eight of its MLAs defecting to the BJP last week, the Opposition in the Goa Assembly may have dramatically shrunk. However, the office of the Leader of the Opposition (LOP) – which enjoys the perks of a Cabinet minister – remains coveted and, at present, vacant.

The Opposition benches have just seven MLAs left in the 40-member House. While with three of those, the Congress has the most number of legislators after the BJP, it now seems the next Opposition leader may not necessarily be from the party but from a former alliance partner.

While the Congress has picked first-time MLA Yuri Alemao to be its legislature party leader, it has so far not indicated that he alone would stake claim to the office of the LOP.

A recent comment by Congress MLA Carlos Ferreira suggests that other names may also be in contention. Describing Goa Forward Party (GFP) President Vijai Sardesai, who contested the last Assembly election as a Congress ally, as a “firebrand leader” with “ideological like-mindedness” with his party, Ferreira said Sardesai must once again join forces with the Congress. Together, they must “stand up to forces like the BJP” that, he alleged, were “trying to make democracy redundant”.

Goa’s political circles came alive with talk of Sardesai merging the six-year-old GFP with the Congress. Sardesai, however, said that a decision of this scale cannot be based on speculation.

“The issue of merger with the Congress cannot be decided by speculation. In the absence of any formal proposal, I cannot take it forward. This requires a formal high-level initiative which, at the moment, is not there,” Sardesai said.

Political sources, however, said discussions have reopened between Congress leaders and the GFP.

Sardesai had openly expressed his disappointment with the Congress’s state unit after the Assembly election results this March. The Congress had contested 37 seats, leaving three to the GFP, of which the latter won just one, Fartoda, where Sardesai was the candidate.

Calling the alliance “half-hearted”, Sardesai had then said that “Opposition unity cannot be just a hashtag”. Sardesai had also alleged that his party was given a raw deal in seat allocation.

A former Congress leader, Sardesai formed the GFP ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, where it won three seats.

Sardesai had emerged among the harshest critics of the previous BJP administration – led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant – during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the Monsoon Session in July too, he had put the Sawant government in the dock over several issues.

The jury is still not out on whether Sardesai will return to the Congress that is trying to cut its losses, even if it by one more MLA.

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