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The Supreme Court asked the Goa governor to conduct a floor test on March 16 after the Congress raised objections to the BJP being called upon to form the government

~By Sujit Bhar

The Goa situation has come to a critical point. As Governor Mridula Sinha called the BJP to form government—chief minister-designate Manohar Parrikar had already resigned from his post as defence minister and taken oath as chief minister on March 14—Congress took time to realise that the BJP was actually the party that finished second at the hustings in the state. While the Congress got 17 seats, BJP managed 13.

Neither had the magic number of 21 to claim independent hold of the 40-member assembly of the state. By Sunday, and way before the Congress could get out of their slumber and move, the BJP had sewn up deals with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party or MGP (3) and Goa Forward Party (3) and some independents (3 independents have won) to present to the governor a list of 22. While the governor should have traditionally called the largest party to show its strength, this quick response of the BJP (and no official claim by the Congress) had her in a bind. She called the BJP to form the government and asked it to prove its strength on the floor of the assembly in 15 days.

That got the Congress’s goat. They rushed to the Supreme Court and demanded justice. The court is on vacation, but considering the urgency of the situation, the Chief Justice of India, JS Khehar, called a three-judge bench—others on the bench being Justices Ranjan Gogoi and RK Agrawal—to handle the case. The Supreme Court agreed that the floor test will have to be held on March 16 itself—the Congress had argued that the 15-day window was too large, fearing rampant “horse-trading”—but then came down heavily on the Congress. The court also refused to stop the oath-taking by Parrikar.

Senior Congress lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi petitioned as follows: “Election results were known by 11th evening. INC got the majority seats of 17 seats. On 12th Congress selected the CM but by then, on 12th evening, BJPs Mr Parrikar goes to Governor and same day he was appointed by governor as CM of Goa.”
His claim: “Extravagant discretion exercised by governor is not allowed as per Constitution. Governor should not have appointed without consulting the single largest party. Democracy is part of basic structure. We have now 21 members supporting the Congress party.
We had written to the governor that we will form the government.
Governor should have called us before appointing the CM.”
That was when the CJI interjected, saying: “You saw them saying they have the majority. But you never said you have the majority nor have you mentioned in this petition. You have not brought the affidavits of these people who are with you. You failed to show that the people who are mentioned in their list are with you.”

The court said: “If you had the numbers, you would have held a dharna at the Governor’s house.”

As counsel Singvi submitted that “It’s constitutionally and legally wrong,” Justice Gogoi replied: “Healthy constitutional practice should be followed, not the just the convention of calling the largest party.”

With things not so bright, Singhvi pleaded: “How can you give a window of 15 days to second largest party? Let there be a floor test today (March 14) or tomorrow.”

The Chief Justice said: “You could have demolished their case in 30 seconds. You could have just shown that they are with you. You are putting us also in the position of the governor. You have not shown that three people are with you.”

Singhvi admitted the lapse. He said: “I made a mistake by not showing that I agree. Our second prayer is to hold the floor test. What is the difficulty in holding the floor test today or tomorrow?”

Finally, the court acceded to his request and issued the order, the relevant section of which is as follows: “We … hereby direct, that all pre-requisite formalities for holding a floor test, including the formalities required to be completed by the Election Commission, be completed by 15.03.2017. We request the Governor of the State of Goa to ensure, that a floor test is held on 16.03.2017, and the only agenda for the day would be, the holding of a floor test to determine whether the Chief Minister administered the oath of office, has support of the majority. The floor test shall be held on 16.03.2017, as early as possible, but surely during the course of the same day.”

It’s not over

The Supreme Court may have acceded to the plea and ordered a floor test on Thursday. However, that is definitely not the end of the problems for Congress.

While Congress leader P. Chidambaram tweeted: “The BJP is stealing elections in Goa, Manipur (In Manipur too, the BJP has been invited to form the government). Party that comes second has no right to form government,” Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who is in charge of Goa affairs shot back: “The Congress was busy in Goa with five to six candidates claiming leadership. So they did not have time to discuss with alliance partners.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has reportedly said: “Governor in Goa had only one claim of 21 MLAs out of 40 with Parrikarji as leader. 17 MLAs of Congress did not even make a claim.”

The issue has boiled over to the Congress MLAs—many of them first-timers—who are reportedly furious that despite having the numbers, they could not stake claim. They were surprised and frustrated that the party was not able to get the support just four legislators from other parties to show a minimum of 21.

A visibly frustrated Jennifer Monserrate, an elected Congress MLA from Taleigao (North Goa) was reportedly heard saying: “It is miserable and horrible… people trusted the Congress and voted for us… we get a clear 17 seats and we still couldn’t manage to form government… we are the laughing stock.”

This is the level of degeneration and decadence that the Grand Old Party seems to have gone into. The rheumatic behaviour is so apparent that the party today can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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