The tidings are clear. An alliance of opposition parties and independents is born in Goa, de-facto, courtesy, a faux pas by the powers that be that saw youthful Porvorim MLA (Independent) Rohan Khaunte being arrested at midnight and then bailed out on a complaint made by Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Premanand Mahambre that the legislator had threatened him while being in the precincts of the State Assembly complex last week for referring to the business and properties of the MLA while addressing a press conference earlier in the day. The unsavoury incident saw the entire opposition barging into the Raj Bhavan to seek intervention of Governor Satya Pal Malik in the matter.
After all, a former cabinet colleague of Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant and that of his predecessor Manohar Parrikar has been humiliated by BJP itself, now that political equations have changed corners following large scale defection (they call it merger) of Congress legislators with the ruling party months ago. What is to be regretted is that an otherwise minor matter has been blown out of proportion, privileges of legislators have been guillotined and the normal inquiry process to be conducted before taking any serious action against the members of the House is apparently ignored and forgotten. No wonder, therefore, that the Assembly witnessed avoidable incidents like senior lawmakers like Vijai Sardesai besides Khaunte having been hounded out with the help of marshals took place before all the opposition MLAs rushed to the Raj Bhavan to seek justice from the Governor.
The elder of the House Pratapsinh Rane, who had the longest innings as the chief minister besides holding the post of Speaker himself, was apparently annoyed over the fact as he believed that Speaker Rajesh Patnekar should have at least inquired before taking action i.e. authorising the police to arrest Khaunte. The immunity cover granted to legislators under Article 194 of the Constitution seems to have been ignored. The joke is that a person who is not a member or functionary of the House complaints against a Member of the House about a verbal exchange between the two in the assembly complex and the police action is taken against the MLA and, that too, at midnight as if a serious emergency had arisen. Rane was witness to the duo talking to each other. And, what was the threat given by Khaunte to Mahambre? Mahambre’s complaint is that the MLA held his wrist tight and told him that he too would show him the properties of his (Mahambre’s) mother and father, as per media reports. Are the MLAs supposed to keep q
uiet when a BJP spokesperson makes certain allegations against them?
Why is the Chief Minister maintaining silence over the episode? Obviously, Dr Sawant could have prevented arrest of Khaunte though permissions for such things are the prerogative of the Speaker. He holds the home portfolio and could have certainly asked the police to make at least preliminary inquiry into the allegations listed against the MLA by his partyman. Arrest is not the sole answer to such complaints. And, if the BJP thinks that it can win the Porvorim seat by attempting to tarnish the fair image of Khaunte, it is sadly mistaken. For, Khaunte is too a popular leader of the constituency and is known for nursing it assiduously. The various public utility projects undertaken by him while he was a minister could be envy of any of his contemporaries. Now, he has earned extra sympathy because of his arrest at midnight. BJP would certainly try to dent his image.
And, why Malik Sahab is maintaining stoic silence? As the head of the State he has authority to set things right. After the meeting with the opposition legislators, who were led by Leader of the Opposition Digambar Kamat, not a word has emerged from the gubernatorial mansion. The opposition members were only seeking intervention and not interference in the matter so as not to clash with the prerogatives of the Speaker though presiding officers of legislatures are guided by expressed rules and regulation. There is well established consensus that presiding officers should function independently bereft of their party affiliations while deciding the official business. A decision to this effect was taken by presiding officers’ conference way back in 1964 whereby speakers were exhorted to shed party labels upon occupying the chair and this particular view has been given credence during the formation of the anti-defection law or the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution 32 years ago. A specific provision has been made
in the Schedule to insulate from disqualification those presiding officers resign from their parties to function independently during the pendency of this post.
What Khaunte and his colleagues in the opposition were requesting the chair was to provide them the CCTV surveillance footage of the confrontation between the MLA and the relevant correspondent including the complaint made by Mahambre to the Speaker, the letter of the police seeking Speaker’s permission to effect arrest and Speaker’s guidance to the police thereof. No law prevents provision of this information to the opposition members. This information along with a statement from Pratapsinh Rane should help bare the facts so that the people would be free to draw their inferences. In any case, the members of the house cannot be denied of this relevant information. And, because they were not getting this information that the opposition members rushed to the Governor to seek his intervention.
The immediate fallout of Khaunte’s arrest is the open convergence of all the opposition parties and individuals to function as one group to protect their privileges and simultaneously confront the BJP government on matters of public importance. In fact, the idea of opposition alliance has taken a firm shape and this is something which the ruling dispensation should worry about particularly in view of the fact that barely two years remain for the next bout of assembly elections. Coming together of resurgent Congress Party and the Goa Forward Party besides the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and independents like Khaunte could be a force to reckon with at the hustings. The Congress Party is just waiting for taking revenge against BJP because the latter initially deprived it of coming to power despite having emerged the largest group in the house of 40 and subsequently decimating it at regular intervals.
The short budget session of the house is since over. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General has exposed the real image of the State administration and poor performance of various departments and public sector units. With the major issue of resumption of mineral ore mining industry would take months, if not years, as per the current indications, a war of attrition between the ruling dispensation and the de-facto opposition alliance could release lots of heat to warm up body politic.