“Political parties always look for winning candidates. That is how the mathematics of elections works and tickets are given. This has been a huge lesson. Now going forward, the people must show us the way. They must reject defectors. This is no longer about the BJP and Congress. This is not even about Goa anymore. This is about democracy,” said Congress secretary in-charge of Goa A Chellakumar on Friday as his party prepared to meet the Speaker at the Legislative Assembly. “The electorate needs to set us all right.”
The Congress has announced to file a petition before the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and also move the court seeking disqualification of the 10 MLAs who resigned from the party on Wednesday and crossed over to the BJP.
While three of them were promised Cabinet berths, Chandakant Kavlekar, who till yesterday was Leader of Opposition, has now been promised the seat of deputy chief minister, replacing Vijay Sardesai, an ally of the NDA.
“When the ten MLAs met the Speaker and offered the letter, the Speaker (Rajesh Patnekar) himself used the words merge. His order reads ‘The Indian National Congress Legislature Party in the Goa Legislative Assembly has decided to merge into the Bharatiya Janta Party…Who are the ten or the Speaker to use the word merge. The Congress has not merged. We are going to fight this illegality,” he added.
The entire development, believed to have been orchestrated by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo with “the strings pulled by party veteran Satish Dhond”, has not been received well, either by BJP or by Congress. Power Minister Nilesh Cabral has spoken to the press expressing shock. Former Speaker Rajendra Arlekar has expressed disbelief as he told the press, “Local unit of the party is proceeding on a totally incorrect path”.
“In the larger scheme of things, the party has a bigger role to fight communal forces and saffronisation. But how does one do that when, internally, these developments continue? Poaching has been in the talks for long. The MLAs themselves came to me a few months ago and hinted at the meetings behind the doors and how they were offered money,” Chellakumar said.
“All the parties need to introspect on how does one choose their candidates. How does the equation of winnability and loyalty be probed? These (development) are heading towards difficult days ahead. We have to now look at new models,” he added.
Chellakumar also spoke of the two meetings where Kavlekar and the defected MLAs met him and apprised him of the “extent of the offers made”. He claims the MLAs were met at three stages, by leaders from three levels in BJP. “This also shows the manner in which politics is shaping. Elections are a mandate. This poaching is not democratic. This happened over a period of time, which also shows how this was done against the interest of democracy. And it also raises questions on where does politics go from here? These cannot be seen as concerns of Goa or concerns of the Congress alone,” he added.
The party’s internal meetings took place between the five MLAs — four of whom were former chief ministers — besides Goa State president Girish Chodankar. “Eight of those who left us have the biggest answers to give to their electorate. Eight have gone at the cost of the interest of the community. The ideology in which they stood for elections does not and will not reflect in their new postings,” Chellakumar.
Of the 10 Congress MLAs who walked to the other side, eight represent constituencies where Christians are in a majority. With their move, this also makes Goa the only state with an RSS-groomed Chief Minister Pramod Sawant holding a party of 27 MLAs of which 15 belong to the minority community.
“Of the 10, we are now told Chandrakant Kavlekar, who stood as a leader of the opposition, will be sworn in on Saturday. This essentially means he won on a Congress ticket but he will be walking as a BJP minister during his first day in the assembly. This doesn’t make sense from any angle,” Chellakumar said.
The Congress leader also spoke on BJP’s campaign during the bypoll of Panjim seat. “They called Atanasio Monserrate a rapist and also styled their entire campaign against the Congress as a party fielding a rapist. Now on Monday, the same man will be walking as a BJP minister. Throughout the election campaign, BJP had asked women and children to remain indoors as a rapist was out campaigning. I would ask the BJP to finish it in style. Make him the minister for Women and Child Welfare,” he said.
Chellakumar said his party accepts the blunders made in the past. “It was suicide to recruit a known defector in the party. This is exactly what we now need to ponder upon and probe. The mechanisms of elections need to be now looked on the basis of a longer-term. The question of winnability will ride but we now need to clean the house and look for those names, even if they are fresh, who will be loyal to the party and to the electorate. This will be a long journey. But now that our house has got cleaned, we will now look to strengthen it. In that sense we are relieved,” he said, adding, “The party is now going to the ground again. This will be a difficult exploration but one we cannot avoid anymore.”
The Congress leader is expected to announce the name of the Leader of The Opposition after holding a meeting with the remaining five MLAs. Digambar Kamat, who was the target of a similar coup, is likely to get the position.
“I am told that Kavlekar took all the questions from Digambar and the rest to be put up at the assembly. This is ridiculous. Now at least the questions are with us. We will put a good opposition,” Chellakumar said.