Casino licenses in Goa are expiring on March 31st this year!
And do you know who was the most vocal and outspoken anti-Casino spokesperson and activist in Goa over the last 5 years.
Well it was none other than our friend-turned-foe Vijai Sardesai and then his party the Goa Forward Party.
It was the Goa Forward Party which would send out at least one media release every month against the Casinos and taunted Manohar Parrikar about his U-Turn on casinos in the Mandovi river.
The BJP during the 2012 elections had vowed to drive out the casinos out of the Mandovi river far out into the Arabian sea, but after coming to power, they did a complete U-turn and went back on their promise. The reason given to the people of Goa was that the State of Goa is bankrupt and it needs the taxes from the Casinos to survive. They also tried to explain that casinos provide employment to hundreds of Goan youth. The same people who were anti-casinos, became pro-casino after they won the elections.
This year, besides the Congress, it was the Goa Forward Party which was very vocal on Casinos during its election campaign. Now with the tables turned, can Sardesai clarify what is his NEW STAND ON THE CASINOS?
Let’s see what happens to Vijai Sardesai now that he is in power?
ALSO READ: With licenses up for renewal on March 31, Goa Casino Lobby was keen on having Vijai Sardesai on its side: How Goa Forward became Goa Coward on Casino issue
As the Goa Forward Party including its boss man Vijai Sardesai were the most critical and vocal opposition on the operation of the floating casinos in the river Mandovi, and with the party having won 3 crucial seats that could decide who becomes the CM, the casino lobby went into a huddle on the issue.
Of course, Parrikar was a safe bet, as the casino owners had several years of experience dealing with him and there was also an unwritten agreement between the two on the operation of the floating casinos. Any other new CM would be difficult to deal with, they reasoned.
According to sources in the casino industry, the casino owners were also worried that Vijai and gang may make good their promise of throwing out the casinos far out of the Mandovi river into the Arabian sea, if they ended up with a Congress government or a non-friendly, non-cooperative new Congress CM eager to prove his clean image.
As part of their election campaign this year, the Congress Party had pledged to abolish the casino industry in Goa. It was the only party which was very vocal on the casino issue during election campaigning.
The casino operators were worried if Vijai Sardesai teamed up with the Congress, the casino lobby could be in a major problem. They were also worried that a non-BJP government with a new CM could possibly dig up “old dirt” and payoffs over the last 5 years of BJP rule.
The BJP is the only major party in Goa that did not take an overtly anti-casino stand during its election campaigning. Parrikar in his earlier stint as the state’s Chief Minister had on various occasions noted that while he does not support casinos, he would not close down the casinos that are currently operational. Parrikar’s successor and party colleague Laxmikant Parsekar had also said that BJP would not disturb the casino industry in order to retain investor confidence in the state.
BJP’s alliance partner Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party had also noted that while it does not encourage casinos it would not like to disrupt the existing casinos that are operational.
It is very obvious that a certain mutual understanding was reached between the casino lobby and the former Goa BJP government and excuses were given like Goa needs the money for its survival.
In fact, when the GFP was in opposition after it was formed in the run-up to the elections, it went out of its way to hit at the casinos, alleging that the casino owners were funding the BJP campaign and BJP party expenses.
All India Congress Committee (AAIC) secretary Girish Chodankar had further reaffirmed the party’s plans in a statement to reporters prior to the release of the election results, saying, “Once we form the government, I assure you we will not renew the excise licenses of the offshore casino vessels once they expire on March 31,” adding, “The Congress party will take appropriate legal remedies to insulate its decision to ban the sale of liquor on offshore casinos from any legal implications. We will have to make sure that the casino operators don’t challenge our decision in the court.”
Following the election results, it became apparent that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had lost their majority in the 40-member assembly, losing 8 seats off their former holdings of 21. Their rival faction, the Congress Party, improved their hold on the Assembly to 17 seats, an increase of eight from their 2012 showing. The Casino lobby in Goa, having forged an understanding with Manohar Parrikar and the BJP which controlled the government for the last 5 years was more comfortable dealing with people like former Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar and Manohar Parrikar. They also wanted Vijai Sardesai on their side at any cost.
So the Congress allegation that casino money had financed the “buying of MLAs by the BJP” definitely holds water.
The Congress yesterday said the BJP had paid “casino money” to win over MLAs to its side, a stance that possibly gave away the party’s helplessness while the ruling party prepared for a floor test on Thursday.
Girish Chodonkar, the All India Congress Committee secretary, said: “More than Rs 1,000 crore they have used. Including the money from casinos. Because casino people were very much there in the Raj Bhavan for the last two days.” He added: “I will request Parrikar to reveal BJP leaders’ (names), especially Sadanand Tanawde who has been calling up Congress MLAs. Let Parrikar release (the names) if he has the courage.”
While the figure of Rs 1000 crore may be a figment of Chodonkar’s imagination, the possibility that the casino lobby contributed and funded Manohar Parrikar during the last crucial 5 days cannot be completely ruled out.
A more reasonable figure is in the range of Rs 25 to Rs 50 crore or may be Rs 100 crore over a span of six months. While getting proof of the same may be difficult for now, only time will tell how Vijai reacts and responds to the casinos in the Mandovi.