PANAJI: Unable to form government in Goa in 2017 despite emerging as the single-largest party in the state Assembly and its MLAs defecting to the BJP since last two terms, the Congress unit here has been facing criticism, but a senior leader of grand old party exuded confidence of taking on the saffron party and combating what he alleged the “BJP’s strategy of finishing democracy”.
Defections may be not be new for Goa, as since 1963, the coastal state has seen different Chief Ministers (13 faces) of various parties being sworn in 30 times and imposition of the President’s Rule five times due to political crises.
Since 2017, two major rounds of defections have taken place in the state, wherein Congress MLAs have switched sides by joining the BJP, helping the saffron party to retain power from 2017-22, and now, to become stronger.
Despite the Congress having numbers in the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP having just 13 seats outplayed the former to form the government and completed the term with full strength by welcoming Congress defectors in its party fold.
Sources informed that Congress could not decide on its Chief Ministerial face in 2017, as their three senior politicians including Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat and Luizinho Faleiro were in the fray to grab the top post. Even the independent MLA who was keen to support Congress changed his mind and supported the BJP after witnessing chaos in Congress office. Thus the BJP came into power with the support of regional parties and independents.
In March 2017, the then Congress MLA Vishwajit Rane resigned from the party as well as an MLA and joined the BJP. The leakage in Congress started with his attempt. Rane won the by-election against Congress candidate Roy Naik, son of then Congress MLA Ravi Naik, and became a minister in the BJP government.
In October 2018, another two Congress legislators, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte, also resigned and joined the BJP, subsequently winning the by-elections.
Switching sides did not stop here. On July 10, 2019, Congress faced a third setback after 10 more MLAs along with Leader of Opposition Chandrakant Kavalekar switched to the BJP. Kavalekar, along with six other defectors, however, lost the Assembly elections in February, 2022.
Before the Assembly election in February, 2022, Ravi Naik joined the BJP and got elected from Ponda. Now, Ravi Naik is a minister in the cabinet of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. Luizinho Faleiro joined the Trinamoool Congress and became Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal. The departure of senior politicians from the party had baffled the Congress then.
In the second term of BJP government in 2022, former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, (then) Leader of Opposition Michael Lobo, Delilah Lobo, Kedar Naik, Sankalp Amonkar, Rajesh Faldesai, Aleixo Sequeira and Rudolf Fernandes, these eight MLAs switched parties by joining BJP on September 14, 2022. This political development decimated the Congress party to mere 3 MLAs in 40 members of Goa Legislative Assembly.
Speaking about the defection and his party MLAs joining the BJP, AICC former Secretary Girish Chodankar said that had they formed the government in 2017, BJP would have been at bay till today.
“Our 13 leaders joined the BJP after the 2017 election. Ten of them defected and three joined by resigning as the BJP was in power. Still we managed to combat the situation by convincing our voters and could elect 11 MLAs in 2022. People vented their anger against defectors (of 2018) and showed them doors in the 2022 election. Now those who defected last year will also face the similar fate, ” Chodankar said.
Speaking about how they defeated Chandrakant Kavalekar from Quepem constituency, Chodankar said that they punctured the strength of the former by focusing on city votes.
“We had no leader in Quepem as Kavalekar had won four times on Congress ticket. However, we did not lose hope and with support from our traditional voters we could elect a new face, ” Chodankar said.
He said that it becomes very tough to build the organisation at constituency level, when suddenly leaders betray and join other parties.
“Despite our leaders joining the BJP, our vote share has not been affected. In the last assembly elections, our vote share decreased by mere 3 per cent and that too because new entrant parties contested, ” Chodankar said, referring to TMC, AAP and Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP).
The RGP has recently alleged that Congress has become a factory of manufacturing MLAs and supplying them to BJP.
Attacking RGP, Chodankar said that this regional party made inroads by promising people to bring a bill called ‘Person of Goan Origin’ (POGO).
“But now they have shelved the POGO bill issue and are trying to target Congress only to help BJP, to whom they hobnob backdoors. RGP should target robbers who have robbed our MLAs and not us, as we are victims, ” Chodankar said.
He said that the defection issue will not affect them in any way for the Lok Sabha election. “People know that we have done nothing wrong. Our MLAs switched party for their benefits and BJP gave them entry to finish opposition, so they can bulldoze democracy, which they have started in Goa and also across the nation, ” Chodankar said, adding that BJP is “suppressing institutions and also people”.
“Some leaders joined us only to get tickets, they had not opted for our ideology. When the leaders accept ideology, people will see the difference. But it was shocking when our MLA Sankalp Amonkar, who was a loyal leader, too joined the BJP. It was a big shock for this theory that one who opt ideology would not betray, ” Chodankar replying to the question said.
“People are witnessing the situation of those who left the Congress and joined the BJP. Former Chief Minister Ravi Naik is being treated as ‘joker’ and Digambar Kamat is waiting for his turn to become minister in the cabinet of Pramod Sawant, who is junior to him, ” Chodankar said.
“Yes we are frustrated that defection cases are not heard by Goa Legislative Speaker Ramesh Tawadkar, who has become a puppet of BJP. He is making a mockery of democracy and I cannot accept it as it is done by a person who was a school teacher, ” Chodankar said.
“Amendment in the tenth schedule of the constitution would help to save democracy. MLAs who resign should not be given an opportunity to contest in that term. And most important is that disposal of defection cases should be time bound, ” he said.
He said that justice in such cases should be delivered timely, so such incidents do not happen in future. (IANS)