Dismissing speculation that several Congress MLAs in Goa are ready to jump ship and join ruling BJP, the leaders of the grand old party, including its Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao, on Saturday called it “totally a rumour”.
Congress leaders also said Saturday’s meeting with the party’s 11 MLAs at a hotel in Panaji had nothing to do with the conjecture, but was held ahead of the monsoon session of the Assembly, which begins Monday.
Speculation that some Congress MLAs are set to join BJP has been doing the rounds since BJP national general secretary and the party’s state in-charge, C T Ravi, had said back in May that BJP, which has 20 MLAs and formed the government with the support of five others, will have 30 MLAs by the end of the year.
In 2019, 10 of 15 Congress legislators had ‘merged’ the legislature party with BJP and become BJP MLAs.
On Saturday, state Congress president Amit Patkar said, “Eight of our 11 MLAs are new. There was a meeting today on floor management (in the House). Our senior MLAs had had discussions with the new MLAs, and I am hopeful that from Monday you will see the Congress raising public issues (in the House) against this government, which has failed.”
The BJP-led government, he added, “only creates rumour and confusion among people”.
Micheal Lobo, Leader of Opposition in the 40-member Goa House, said Gundu Rao was expected to arrive last week but could not come then, and thus addressed the MLAs on Saturday. “All MLAs are prepared to raise questions — not just about their own constituencies but questions that are relevant to Goa, such as the three linear projects, effects of coal handling at MPT (Mormugao Port Trust)…” he said.
On senior MLA and former CM Digambar Kamat’s absence from the meeting, Patkar said Kamat had guided the party’s first-time MLAs at a previous meeting of the legislature party and could not attend Saturday’s meeting since he had to be in Canacona, in South Goa.
In the backdrop of notices issued by the Town and Country Planning Department, under minister Vishwajit Rane, to properties co-owned by Lobo and his MLA-wife over alleged illegal constructions, Rao said: “The BJP is trying to silence the Leader of Opposition by unnecessarily harassing him. This is not the way a democracy should function. Mrs Delilah Lobo (Congress MLA and wife of Micheal Lobo) moved court and got an order (in her favour). The Leader of Opposition will not be silenced; the Congress will not be silenced.”
Fueling speculation about Congress MLAs jumping ship — a la 2019 — BJP leader Ravi had said in May that BJP had won 20 of 40 Assembly seats, and although it had a majority of 25 MLAs with support from Independents and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the number could rise to 30 MLAs, if the party’s leadership “grants permission”.
Addressing Goa BJP leaders and workers at the party’s state executive meeting on May 28, Ravi had said, “Your (election) slogan was ‘Bavisaant Baavis (22 seats in 2022)’. With support from (other MLAs) we are 25 in 2022. But don’t worry; a lot of people are in contact (with us). Within (20)22, we will cross 30. The party has not given permission. That’s why we are 25. If the party grants permission, we will be 30 in ’22.”
The Congress had rubbished the claims.
The speculation over possible entry of Congress MLAs into BJP has, however, once again gathered steam ahead of the village panchayat election in Goa on August 10. Panchayat elections are not contested on party symbols.