Congress still has six of its 11 MLAs, says Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao; ‘BJP throwing enormous sums of money to engineer defections’
Mumbai: Winds of political turbulence have once again begun to blow in the politically volatile coastal state of Goa, as the Goa Congress is headed for a major split engineered by its senior leaders Michael Lobo and former chief minister Digambar Kamat in coordination with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Speculations were rife since Saturday of a number of Goa Congress MLAs defecting en masse to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao, in a late evening press conference on Sunday said that Michael Lobo, the MLA from Calangute, had been removed from his post of Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader while Digambar Kamat would be probed for alleged anti-party activities by hobnobbing with the BJP.
Commenting upon the hectic developments Dinesh Gundu Rao remarked, “Let’s see how many will move (to the BJP) …we have six of our MLAs and are in touch with some more. But Congress will not be weakened. We will take up this issue of betrayal to the Goan people which is engineered by two people for the sake of power and personal gain.” He accused the ruling BJP of using money power.
Over the weekend, political rumour mills were buzzing overtime in the coastal State with reports of Michael Lobo and Digambar Kamat, along with an unspecified number of Congress MLAs, were planning to join the BJP. Both issued strenuous denials remarking there was no truth in these suggestions, with Michael Lobo vehemently denying all such reports till Sunday.
Michael Lobo’s intentions became clear when he skipped the 6.45 pm press meet at Congress House called by Dinesh Gundu Rao for all 11 Congress MLAs to make a united stand in order to dispel the suggestions of a mass defection. Sources said that, instead of attending the Congress media briefing Michael Lobo had reached Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant’s residence late evening.
When a number of MLAs including Michael Lobo, his wife Delilah, Digambar Kamat, Rajesh Faldessai and Kedar Naik did not turn up for the Congress media briefing of Rao, the crisis within the party intensified.
Finally, speaking to media persons after a tense two-hour delay, Gundu Rao said it was “sad to see” someone as senior leaders like Digambar Kamat, a seven-time MLA from Margao, whom the Congress had given so much, is indulging in such “cheap, dirty and desperate politics.”
Gundu Rao further remarked, “Michael Lobo’s behaviour today has exposed what kind of a traitor and backstabber he is.” He further accused the BJP of trying to weaken the Congress in order to continue establishing their authoritarian regime in the country.
Despite his denials, there had been rumours since the February Assembly election results that Michael Lobo, a former BJP Minister who had joined the Congress ahead of the Assembly polls, could return back to his old party along with a number of Congress MLAs and his wife Delilah Lobo.
Dinesh Gundu Rao stated that while a similar incident had happened in July 2019 (when ten Congress MLAs had defected en masse to the BJP), this time it was all the more shocking, as all Congress candidates had signed affidavits before the Assembly election in February.
Apprehensive of a ‘domino effect’ occurring in the politically volatile Goa following Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s revolt which was facilitated by the BJP in Maharashtra, rumours of a Congress split in Goa swirled. It gained more currency over the weekend after Digambar Kamat, the Congress’ Chief Ministerial face before the election and a seven-time MLA from Margao reportedly ‘skipped’ a party meeting with Dinesh Gundu Rao in order to visit a religious place.
On Saturday, Dinesh Gundu Rao, after a meeting of Congress MLA (where everyone was present except Digambar Kamat) had said it was clear that the BJP was planting ‘defection rumours’ ahead of the Assembly Session.
“The BJP is trying to silence the Congress’ Legislative Party (CLP) leader (Michael Lobo) by harassing him. But Congress will not fall prey to the BJP’s vindictive politics. Does the BJP want a one- party rule in this country? What kind of method is this, trying to decimate all opposition? The Congress never behaved like this when in power,” added Gundu Rao.
The BJP led by Goa Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, along with the support of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Independents, already have a comfortable majority of 25 out of the 40 Assembly seats in the House, The BJP has a strength of 20 MLAs in the unicameral legislature.
Despite the Congress emerging as the single-largest party with 17 MLAs after the 2017 Assembly elections, it had failed to seize the initiative to form the government. In a dramatic turn of events then, the BJP which had secured just 13 seats, cobbled up an alliance with smaller regional parties such as the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and formed the government.
This setback to the Congress was followed by a major blow in 2019 when ten of its MLAs had switched allegiances to join the BJP, whittling down the party to just two MLAs, former chief ministers Pratapsingh Rane and Digambar Kamat.
In a bid to preclude such an occurrence in the future and put a stop to rampant horse-trading, all 37 Congress candidates, before the February Assembly election this year, had taken loyalty pledges in the presence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a temple, dargah and a church vowing not to defect to other parties regardless of the election result.
Meanwhile, speaking in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar quipped that he was surprised the BJP had not already managed to split the Goa Congress given that they had already toppled the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra.
Accusing the saffron party of trying to destroy the pillars of democracy, Sharad Pawar remarked, “This (referring to ‘Operation Lotus’) has already happened in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. I am surprised it didn’t happen earlier in Goa.”