As Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra entered its seventh day, the Congress, on an electoral decline for years now, was dealt another body blow Wednesday when eight of its 11 MLAs in Goa, including former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and former Leader of Opposition Michael Lobo, quit the party and joined the BJP.
While the BJP called the high-profile exits as the beginning of the “Congress chhoro yatra”, the Congress hit back, saying a “nervous” BJP had “fast tracked” its “Operation Kichad” in Goa because of the “visible success” of Rahul’s yatra.
Yet the Congress, which claimed to have averted a bid to split its legislature party in July, either did not do or could not do much to prevent the defection.
In fact, what happened in Goa Wednesday was pretty much a repeat of the events that unfolded in the state three years ago. But unlike in 2019 when two-thirds (then 10 out of 15) of the Congress MLAs defected to the BJP in a post-midnight visit to the Speaker’s office, the defection Wednesday took place in broad daylight.
The eight Congress MLAs crossed over to the BJP in a “merger” of the two legislature parties.
Along with Kamat and Lobo, the MLAs – Lobo’s wife Delilah, Aleixo Sequeira, Sankalp Amonkar, Kedar Naik, Rajesh Phal Dessai and Rudolfo Fernandes – were welcomed into the BJP by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and state BJP president Sadanand Tanavade.
“The Congress has started a Bharat Jodo Yatra but in Goa the Congress Chhoro Yatra has begun. I welcome the new MLAs into the BJP wholeheartedly… Before the election, we had resolved ‘Bavisaant Baavis plus (22 plus MLAs in 2022)’ and before 2022 comes to an end, the BJP has 28 MLAs and the BJP’s foundation in Goa has been strengthened. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2024, we will definitely win both the Parliamentary seats,” Sawant said.
“With the Congress Chhoro Yatra beginning in Goa, leaders of the Congress from across the country will come to the BJP in the interest of the nation and give more strength to Modiji. And Modiji will be back as Prime Minister in 2024 with over 400 (Lok Sabha) seats,” he said.
The Congress leaders, he said, were leaving the party in a piecemeal manner earlier, but now they are leaving “in lump sum”.
Jairam Ramesh, AICC general secretary in charge of the communication department, hit back: “Operation Kichad of BJP in Goa has been fast tracked because of the visible success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. BJP is nervous. A daily dose of diversion and disinformation is handed out to undermine the yatra. We remain undeterred. We will overcome these dirty tricks of the BJP.”
Dinesh Gundu Rao, AICC in charge of Goa, said, “If the BJP thinks that by doing Operation Kichad in Goa they are going to get stronger, then they will be in for a surprise. People of India are witnessing their unholy and corrupt politics. Their jar of sins is filling up. The people will fight back. We will fight back.”
In the 40-member Goa House, the BJP had formed the government with 20 of its MLAs and support of two from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and three independents. With eight Congress MLAs switching to the treasury benches in a merger of the legislature parties, the BJP will now have 28 MLAs and support from five, raising its tally to 33.
The Opposition benches will now be occupied by three Congress MLAs, two from AAP and one each from Goa Forward Party and Revolutionary Goans Party.
Ahead of the Assembly elections in February, the Congress had taken its candidates to a temple, church and dargah where, led by Kamat, they took an oath to stay put in the Congress if elected. Later, they also handed affidavits to the effect in the presence of Rahul Gandhi.
Asked if their oath was insincere, Kamat said: “I am a believer in God. About the oath which I have taken before God, I have gone back to the temple and I have asked God and the Goddess that this (joining BJP) is in my mind. What should I do? We have a system of getting prasad. Then God said, you go ahead, don’t worry.”
The Goa Congress said the defectors had made a mockery not only of democracy but of God as well, and would have to answer to God and the people who voted for the Congress symbol.
The party gathered the three MLAs left – Carlos Ferreira, Yuri Alemao and Altone D’Costa – and addressed the press.
Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Amit Patkar, “Those who are saying that they have gone to the BJP for development, had come to the Congress because there was no development. The BJP is rattled by our Bharat Jodo Yatra. When the CM says they have a full majority government, then why did they feel the need to take more MLAs? I am very proud of the three MLAs who have stayed with us.”
Ferreira, a former Advocate General of Goa, said the affidavits, signed by candidates ahead of the Assembly election pledging their allegiance to the Congress, had no legal standing.
He said the former GPCC president’s petition challenging the defection of 10 Congress MLAs to the BJP in 2019 is pending before the Supreme Court.
The legality of Wednesday’s defection, he said, also rests on the outcome of that petition. “The Tenth Schedule was brought to curb the evil of defection. Let us wait and watch if any of these eight MLAs who have gone that side will be accommodated or not,” Ferreira said.