Fatorda’s ‘Guevara’ leads charge against the BJP in Goa

Like his idol Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, he was born in Buenos Aires. Serendipitously, he shares a birthday (June 14) with the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary.

For Goa Forward Party (GFP) chief Vijai Sardesai, who has allied with the Congress this time for the upcoming Assembly election, the affinity to ‘Che’, whom he is known to quote fluently, is no coincidence.

“It was decreed that I should have the blood of a rebel in my veins,” Mr. Sardesai, who is often called the “rockstar” of Goan politics owing to his vigorous campaigns, says.

With the looks of another revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, and the fanboy appeal of a James Dean, the dashing 51-year-old Mr. Sardesai is indeed a rebel with many causes as he campaigns across his constituency Fatorda with his trademark dynamism.

The GFP chief hails from one of Goa’s most prominent families: Mr. Sardesai’s father Jaivant was an entomologist at the United Nations, his mother Laxmibai was a noted Gandhian, while his uncle was the towering litterateur Ravindra Kelekar — who was second only to the great Konkani writer Waman Valaulikar in helping revitalise the Konkani language and giving it its distinct identity.

In a State roiled with chronic political instability, Mr. Sardesai, who began his political career with the Congress, has marched to the beat of his own drum.

While retaining his revolutionary elan, he has nonetheless emerged as a hard-nosed pragmatist, and been labelled a ‘kingmaker’ and ‘power-broker’.

“In 2016, I was a vocal Opposition leader. Apart from a short hiatus, in 2019 I’m back to my roots. I have been in the Opposition for most of my political life and will have no regrets even if continue to do so,” Mr. Sardesai told The Hindu , in a rare break from his frenetic campaigning.

He was compelled to exit the Congress in 2012 when the latter denied him, to its detriment, a ticket from Fatorda. Mr. Sardesai defeated the Congress candidate and won Fatorda both in 2012 and 2017.

The GFP had contested four seats in the 2017 Goa election, winning three of them.

A post-poll understanding with the Congress turned sour when Mr. Sardesai, fed up with the Congress’ dithering on forming the government despite emerging as the single-largest party, decided to tag along with Manohar Parrikar’s BJP.

In a post-midnight drama played out in a plush Goa hotel, Mr. Sardesai’s adhesion to Mr. Parrikar proved decisive in helping him forming the BJP-led government in 2017, for which the GFP chief was made Deputy Chief Minister.

Since then, Mr. Sardesai has been described by less pleasant epithets: the Congress (his present ally) had likened him to “Judas Iscariot” at the time, while the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has recently dubbed him Goa’s “betrayer-in-chief”.

“I have strong friends and even stronger enemies,” he candidly admits. His chutzpah and charisma have always put off the stodgier elements within the Goa Congress.

Even before forming the GFP, his independent streak was evident when he formed the ‘All-Goa Students Union’, a youth outfit distinct from the ones in the Congress and the BJP.

“When I floated the GFP soon after winning the Margao Council elections, I was ridiculed by many in the Congress. They said winning a council was different from winning the State. But I believe I silenced my detractors by forming a party with seeks to preserve Goan ethos and identity,” Mr. Sardesai said.

But after a brief stint in the BJP government and Mr. Parrikar’s untimely demise, Mr. Sardesai was dumped unceremoniously by the saffron party under the current Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in 2019.

“Pramod Sawant is an ‘accidental CM’ with no knowledge and even less foresight. Today’s BJP is comprised of 25% Congressmen with very dark backgrounds. Their leaders have committed scams galore and qualify as the most corrupt of the corrupt. Hence, my decision to ally with the Congress for this election to root out the BJP,” Mr. Sardesai said.

After his exit, the BJP split Mr. Sardesai’s party, poaching its Saligao MLA Jayesh Salgaonkar, who is now contesting on a BJP ticket.

The other attack came from the TMC, which has been particularly vicious towards Mr. Sardesai after parleys with the GFP for a pre-poll alliance came a cropper. It poached the GFP’s working president, Kiran Kandolkar, ahead of the polls.

“Ever since it entered Goa, the TMC has been behaving like the East India Company and a merger and acquisition firm. It thought it would take over smaller parties. When they said I merge my party with them, I refused. I will not countenance political alliances with a gun to my head,” Mr. Sardesai said.

In the spirit of revenge, the TMC then fielded stalwart Luizinho Faleiro from Fatorda to teach Mr. Sardesai a lesson. However, Mr. Faleiro, upset with his party’s decision, backed out at the eleventh hour.

“Mr. Faleiro chickened out. He was apparently not even consulted before being fielded against me. This entire episode exposes the TMC’s intent to split votes to help the BJP and it also shows the contempt with which they treat Goan leaders,” says the GFP supremo.

However, Mr. Sardesai’s own ally, the Congress, has driven a hard bargain in its seat-sharing with the GFP, putting the party in a tight corner.

The alliance with the Congress began with hitches with Mr. Sardesai, losing patience at his ally’s vacillation, already starting his campaign for the St. Andre and Canacona seats, where the GFP believed it had a strong presence. Yet days later, the Congress announced its candidates for both seats. This forced the GFP’s putative candidate to switch to the Trinamool Congress.

This time, the GFP has been given just three seats, including Fatorda, where Mr. Sardesai is the incumbent MLA. The other two are Mayem and Mandrem, where the BJP is strong. If it loses both in the February 14 election, the party will be left with just one seat.

"Certainly, we felt humiliated when the Congress denied us seats where we had strong candidates. But I have swallowed this slight it in the larger interests of rooting out a corrupt and communal BJP led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant,” Mr. Sardesai said.

The existential crisis afflicting the GFP is indicative of the pressure faced today by Goa’s regional parties, including the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which is in its twilight phase.

But amid the byzantine intrigue and dizzying shifts that characterise Goa’s politics, Mr. Sardesai is clear that he will never again ally with the BJP, even in the event of a hung Assembly.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 27, 2022 4:12:37 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/goa-assembly/fatordas-guevara-leads-charge-against-the-bjp-in-goa/article38420070.ece