In a major setback to the Congress party in Goa, two of its MLAs resigned from the party as well as the state assembly and joined the ruling BJP on Tuesday.
The two MLAs- Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte- met BJP president Amit Shah at his Delhi residence on Tuesday and were later inducted into the party at a press conference addressed by Union minister Piyush Goyal.
Subhash Shirodkar is a six-time MLA as well as a former state Congress president. Dayanand Sopte is a two-term legislator.
Welcoming Shirodkar and Sopte into the party, Piyush Goyal said that their presence in the BJP would boost its state government's development agenda.
In the 40-member Goa Assembly, the Parrikar government enjoys the support of 23 MLAs, including 14 of the BJP, three each from the GFP and MGP and three Independent legislators.
The resignations of Sopte and Shirodkar have brought down the strength of the Congress, hitherto the single-largest party in Goa, from 16 to 14 MLAs, which is equivalent to the number of lawmakers of the ruling BJP.
The development assumes significance as the BJP-led alliance government enjoys a thin majority in Goa.
Goa BJP leaders Vishwajit Rane, a minister in the Parrikar government, and Shripad Naik, an MP from the state and a Union minister, were also present at the press conference, with Rane claiming that the Congress in the state is "heading towards a vertical split" due to its MLAs' lack of faith in the leadership of the party's national president Rahul Gandhi.
Rane, who had quit the Congress to join the BJP after the assembly polls in 2017, is seen as one of the contenders for the top post in case the ruling party looks for Parrikar's replacement.
He is believed to have played a key role in winning over the two leaders.
Shirodkar said he joined the BJP due to the development works of the Parrikar government and added that he believed it was the only party capable of issues facing the state.
In the 40-member assembly, the Parrikar government has the support of 23 MLAs. These comprise 14 BJP MLAs, three each from the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party as well as three Independents.
The strength of the Congress, which has so far been the single largest party with 16 MLAs, will now come down to 14.
With Parrikar's condition being critical due to illness and some MLAs of the alliance restive at the prospect of any likely replacement, the BJP has been making vigorous efforts to boost its numbers in the assembly.
It is likely to field the two leaders from the constituencies in the byelections caused by their resignation.
Sopte (54) represented the Mandrem Assembly constituency in North Goa district and Shirodkar (66) was elected from Shiroda in South Goa district.
Earlier, in Goa, Assembly Speaker Pramod Sawant said Shirodkar and Sopte had sent their resignations by fax as members of the assembly to his office.
Shirodkar said more MLAs from the Congress may join the saffron party.
Goa BJP chief Vinay Dinu Tendulkar told reporters that portfolios are likely to be reshuffled among ministers in the coming days.
Goa has been witnessing hectic political activity due to the chief minister's prolonged absence from office due to ill health. He is currently being treated by doctors from the state-run Goa Medical College and Hospital at his private residence at Dona Paula near Panaji.
Reacting to the development, the Congress accused the BJP of "murdering democracy" and democratic traditions in Goa after two of its MLAs quit and joined the ruling party in the state.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari also accused the BJP of misusing the official machinery and probe agencies to break other parties, and claimed similar things have also happened in some other states.
"What has happened in Goa now and what has happened in other states before, clearly shows that the BJP has killed democracy and democratic traditions. It continues to do so by misusing the official machinery and probe agencies in an attempt to break other parties," he told reporters.
Tewari said, "The government is misusing the official machinery and this is a perfect example of how to run a government by creating an atmosphere of terror, fear and intimidation."
Meanwhile, BJP president Amit Shah is slated to meet in Delhi Wednesday the leaders of the key constituents of his party-led coalition government in Goa to discuss the political situation in the coastal state.
Besides Goa Forward Party (GFP) chief Vijai Sardesai, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) leader Sudin Dhavalikar will participate in the meeting.
"Leaders of the alliance partners have been invited to Delhi tomorrow to discuss the current political situation with BJP national president Amit Shah," Sardesai said Tuesday.
Referring to the development, he said the Congress was becoming more and more irrelevant in Goa.
"While trying to pull down the state government, the Congress has destabilised itself," Sardesai added.
Chief Minister Parrikar is away from office for long due to ill health, triggering speculation over the stability of his coalition government.
The Congress had demanded a floor test in the Assembly, claiming that the state government had become rudderless and was in disarray.
Shah has already ruled out a change of guard in Goa.