Special Correspondent

PANAJI: The strength of the Congress in the 40-member Goa Assembly rose to 18 on Wednesday, following the formal merger of the regional Save Goa Front (SGF) with it.

The SGF, led by Minister for Public Works Churchill Alemao, had two members.

The merger was cleared on Sunday by the high command of the Congress as part of a formula to strengthen the coalition government it led in the State. Chief Minister Digambar Kamat has survived two serious toppling bids within seven months of coming to power.

The SGF merger is part of a comprehensive strategy worked out recently by the leaders of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress(NCP), the pre-election alliance partners in the government, following the revolt by three NCP members and one independent. As a result of the merger, the Congress-NCP alliance has a strength of 21.Chief Minister and Pradesh Congress president Francisco Sardinha welcomed the SGF members at a function held in the Congress House on Wednesday morning.

The Congress-NCP would set up a coordination committee, which would monitor and thrash out issues between the coalition partners. The committee includes two Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) MLAs, two independents and an unattached member of the United Goan Democratic party

A reshuffle of portfolios and minor changes in the Cabinet are in the offing to assuage the feelings of the MLAs, who recently raised the banner of revolt against the manner of functioning of some senior Ministers. The SGF was floated seven months ago by Mr. Alemao when he rebelled as a Congress MP from south Goa ahead of the Assembly polls.At the end of a fortnight-long sordid political drama in August last year, Mr. Alemao became a member of the Cabinet in the Kamat government after he switched sides to save the government from a near collapse.

Ironically, he played a crucial role in that toppling bid in association with the BJP even before the government could complete two months. The SGF contested 18 seats in the last Assembly polls but won only two. But much to the delight of the BJP, it dented the Congress in the Catholic-dominated Salcete taluka, considered its bastion.

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