BY FLYNN REMEDIOS: When the Goa Elections’ 2017 results were announced on March 11, the floating casino industry on the Mandovi river in Goa were on pins and needles, awaiting news on the fate of their operations. Their bosses were eagerly awaiting the news that Parrikar and the BJP – as the exit polls had earlier predicted were safe – but that was not to be.
The Congress with some new faces in tow, got a majority with 17 seats, emerging as the single largest party and their close ally, the Goa Forward Party with 3 MLAs was in a position to prop them up and with NCP support, form the government in the state – a government that may not have been so condescending and co-operative as the previous Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government which had privately availed of several favours from the casino lobby over a span of 5 years.
The next day, 2 casino owners were huddled up in a secret conference in a 5 star hotel, pondering over how to safeguard their business interests. The only way was to make Parrikar the CM and somehow get Vijai on their side.
It is a known fact in the casino industry, a huge amount of unaccounted cash transactions take place, and deals are settled in cash only, almost all of it in BLACK, among regular clientele. To this extent, the BJP Central government’s tirade against black money is a big sham, at least where Goa is concerned, because a huge bulk of casino transactions are done only in CASH.
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.