Panaji, March 23 (IANS) The hero during the budget session of the Goa legislative assembly was unfortunately not the budget.
Instead, it was the controversy surrounding the election of Panaji's mayor that overshadowed Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar's budget for the year, its after-shocks even rocking the discussion in the 40-member assembly.
A government decision to postpone the election to the chair of the capital's first citizen barely minutes before voting could take place, ostensibly because the panel backed by the party ruling the state could not secure a majority, gave the opposition enough fodder to force adjournment of the session.
"It is the most autocratic move by the BJP government yet. They did not give democracy a chance at the mayoral elections. Parrikar is behaving like Salazar," Congress spokesperson Reginaldo Lourenco told IANS.
Lourenco was referring to Antonio de Oliviera Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, who held a firm, at times brutal, grip over the Luso empire, which included Goa.
The mayoral election in the city was called off Wednesday -- after all 30 councillors had gathered in the city hall for voting -- through an order issued by the director of Municipal Administration.
City council elections, which are held not on party lines but on panels 'backed' by parties, saw the BJP-backed panel in a minority with only 14 councillors on its side and all set to lose control of the mayor's post.
The opposition, which cobbled a majority owing to the support of two independent councillors, saw victory slipping out of their hands and accused the government of manipulation and trampling upon democratic processes.
At the scheduled time for the start of the voting, a note was dramatically circulated to the councillors from the commissioner of the corporation saying that elections had been postponed based on "directions from the government".
The official, Director of Municipal Administration Sandeep Jacques, who issued the note, said: "The government has received various representations regarding the reservations to the post of mayor/deputy mayor in the corporation. The matter is under examination by the government and therefore it is desirable that the elections to the posts in the corporation of the city of Panaji which are scheduled be postponed till the matter is properly examined and appropriate decision in this regard be conveyed to the corporation."
A furious Surendra Furtado, who was due to be elected mayor owing to the support he had from majority councillors, called the chief minister a "sore loser" and vowed to take legal action against the government.
"This act of postponement of elections thus proves the fact that the CM (chief minister) could not digest the fact that the corporation had slipped out of his grasp when he is the CM and Panaji MLA (member of legislative assembly)," Furtado said.
Furtado has now petitioned the Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court against the government's decision to cancel the polls.
The opposition Congress stalled proceedings in the assembly forcing an adjournment of the house twice as its members demanded the resignation of the chief minister.
Opposition legislator Atanasio Monserrate, who represents the Santa Cruz constituency in the neighbourhood of Panjim, termed it a return of dictatorship to the state.
"It is a fraud on the people. All the people of Panjim should hang their heads in shame," Monserrate said, equating Parrikar with Salazar, under whose rule Goa was in the dying years of imperialism.
A delegation of councillors called on the governor and demanded action from him. The governor is learnt to have called for a report from the government.
Parrikar was unfazed and defended his action of stymying the opposition.
"I could not allow the violation, just because it has been a practice all these years," he said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)