Amid high drama on Sunday, the Congress in Goa accused two of its senior leaders, Micheal Lobo and Digambar Kamat, of allegedly hobnobbing with the BJP and being part of a “conspiracy” hatched with the ruling party to engineer defections.
Towards the end of a day marked by intense speculation and meetings with the MLAs, AICC Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao announced that Lobo had been removed from the position of the leader of the Congress legislature party and that action for anti-party activities would follow against him, Kamat and three other MLAs.
“There was a conspiracy that was hatched by two of our own leaders who were hobnobbing with the BJP to see that the Congress party is weakened and to engineer a split… One is the leader of our legislature party, Micheal Lobo, and the other is former chief minister Digambar Kamat,” Rao said on Sunday evening.
“Both these persons have been working in the background with the BJP. One person to safeguard his own skin. Because of so many cases against him and so many problems he was facing, he has compromised himself. And the other person… even if the Congress party has given him all positions, including making him chief minister for five years, leader of Opposition… he was the face of our election,” he said, adding that he had brought this to the notice of the high command.
Till late in the night, the leadership in New Delhi hadn’t reacted to the events in Goa, except for a tweet by Congress general secretary in charge of organisation, K C Venugopal, who said, “Hon’ble Congress President has asked Shri @MukulWasnik, MP to rush to Goa to oversee latest political developments in the state.”
Rao further accused the BJP of trying to engineer a two-thirds split in the Congress by taking away “at least eight” of its 11 MLAs in the 40-member Assembly so as to dodge the anti-defection law. Claiming that as of Sunday evening, six MLAs were with the Congress, he said, “Many of our MLAs were offered huge amounts of money… But our six MLAs stood firm in spite of pressure.”
The BJP has 20 MLAs in the Assembly, the Congress 11, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Aam Aadmi Party two members each, the Goa Forward Party and the Revolutionary Goans Party have a member each. Besides, there are three independent MLAs. With the BJP ending up as the single largest party after the February elections, it had formed the government in the state with support from the MGP and the three Independents.
Over an hour before he called Lobo a “traitor” and a “backstabber”, Rao was expected to address a press conference with him after two days of speculation over a possible split in the party. On Sunday afternoon, Lobo even met Rao at a hotel in Margao and Congress leaders visited Kamat at his home. However, at 6.45 pm, when the press conference was scheduled to start at the Congress House, only two Congress MLAs were present with Rao. By 8 pm, the number went up to five — Deputy CLP leader Sankalp Amonkar, chief whip Carlos Ferreria, working president Yuri Alemao and MLAs Rudolfo Fernandes and Altone D’costa. Senior legislator Aleixo Sequeira did not show up in Panaji but Congress leaders claimed that he was on their side.
Those who failed to turn up included Kamat, Lobo and his MLA wife Delilah, and MLAs Kedar Naik and Rajesh Faldessai. Late Sunday, Lobo and Delilah were both seen leaving Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s residence in Altinho. Lobo, who joined the Congress just ahead of the elections, was a minister in the previous BJP government.
Exactly three years ago, the Congress was left red-faced when 10 of its 15 MLAs defected to the BJP. Scarred by the incident, the Congress had made its 37 election candidates take a ‘pledge of loyalty’ ahead of the February elections. Besides the pledges — taken in a temple, church and dargah — the candidates also signed affidavits declaring that should they become MLAs, they would remain with the Congress for the rest of their five-year term.
Rao said, “I remember Mr Kamat in a temple, church and dargah, swearing with all our candidates and promising in front of the Gods that we will not defect and whatever happens, we will be loyal to the Congress… And now they are doing this shamelessly. The people of Goa will teach them a befitting lesson.”
Rao said that the Congress would act “as per the law” against Kamat, Lobo and the others.
Over the last two days, amid talk of MLAs jumping ship, Rao has been holding meetings with Congress MLAs — in Panaji on Saturday and in Margao on Sunday — while maintaining that the party was intact. Lobo had joined Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Amit Patkar in saying that the BJP was spreading “rumours” about defections.
Late in the day, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant dismissed talk of him being in touch with Congress MLAs, saying, “I am the CM. All MLAs come to meet me. The Assembly session is starting tomorrow. That is my priority and I am busy with Assembly work. I know nothing about this (defections from Congress). It is the Congress’s problem.” Lobo, Sawant said, had called on him for a “routine meeting”. He also said Union minister Bhupendra Yadav was in Goa for work related to his ministry.
Some part of the day’s drama also played out in the Assembly, where the Speaker of the Goa Legislative Assembly, Ramesh Tawadkar, was in his office on a weekend. He said he was at work to prepare for the two-week monsoon session that begins Monday. Moments later, however, the legislature secretary, Namrata Ulman, issued a notification for the withdrawal of the July 8 notification for the election of the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly that was scheduled for July 12. The notification stated, “No nominations shall be accepted for the aforesaid election”.
In the backdrop of possible defections from the Congress, the withdrawal of the notification further fuelled speculation that the BJP, which had earlier decided to field Mapusa MLA Joshua D’souza for the Deputy Speaker’s position, may now have to renegotiate with the possible defectors.
Late Sunday evening, Tawadkar was seen entering a hotel in Panaji.
At the time of going to the press, an “emergency meeting” of the Congress legislature party was on.