Two years ago, the death of Teotonio Pereira brought down the curtains on an era when politics in Goa was a very different entity. He was the last of the members elected to the first Legislative Assembly of Goa, Daman and Diu, 60 years ago.
One of the last three remaining, he outlived Vinayak Usgaonkar and Gajanand Raikar who passed away in the preceding two years. All three belonged to a different breed of politicians that Goa, not too long ago, had produced but somehow no longer does.
On January 9, legislators – past and present – met to observe Legislators Day, the day on which the first Legislative Assembly of Goa, Daman and Diu was constituted in 1964, a month after elections had been held.
The last six decades have been marked by a very unpredictable political situation, where MLAs crossed the floor bringing down governments or propping up governments, furthering a legacy that had started in the 1960s itself – defections, though at that time they were unable to bring down a government.
Yet, the political class of the 1960s and early 1970s was a shade different from that of the latter period and even today. Those defections did stem from ideological differences or disagreements with the parent party.
As Goa observed the 60th anniversary of the constitution of its first legislative assembly, the record is not all that excellent. In 60 years, Goa, including the current dispensation, has had 30 governments (each swearing-in of a CM counted as government).
This works out to an average of one every two years when the term of an Assembly – and therefore a government – is five years, indicating a very fluid political situation. Besides, Goa was placed under the President’s Rule five times, for a total of 639 days, which works out to almost two years of President’s Rule, further reducing the term of each government.
In effect Goa has had 30 governments and five spells of President’s Rule in 60 years, when ideally it should have had 12 governments of five years each. These are indicators that explain just how fluid Goan politics have been since 1964.
Of the 30 governments Goa has seen, 11 have had a tenure of less than one year each, ranging from 6 days to 334 days and another three governments lasted for less than two years each. Only three of Goa’s governments have run a full term. This does send out a rather negative perception of politics and politicians.
While it is often said that it is the people who are responsible for the changes in government as it is they who elect the MLAs, it is also clear that it is none other than the legislators who bring about political instability in a State.
The people have a responsibility in voting for the right people, but can the political parties give them a better choice in candidates? For instance, there have been numerous instances – including the most recent defections of September 2022 – where first-time MLAs, the so-called new faces, were part of the group that defected. How then can the electorate choose when even the fresh choices succumb and cross over?
In 2021, then Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, who was chief guest at the Goa Legislators Day, had said: “Any legislature is as good as its members. The legitimacy of both of them is interdependent as each of them draws sustenance from the other.”
That interdependency will be the legacy that the Goa legislators will leave behind. At the current time, there is not much to speak about them, but it can of course change.
M Venkaiah Naidu, former Vice President of India
For that, six decades after the first Legislative Assembly was constituted, Goan politics requires a course correction. The State has been plagued by defections to the extent that at the current point of time, the opposition space is occupied by just seven MLAs in a house of 40, which is less than 30 per cent of the strength of the Assembly. This was not how it was when the House was constituted, but resulted out of defections.
Any democracy requires a strong opposition and Goa, in recent times, has not been able to boast of that, though in the past the opposition was a strong force, even if its numbers were not robust. Defections have not only altered the verdicts of the people but have also led to depleted oppositions allowing government to function almost unchallenged.