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Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Goa Congress crisis: Digambar Kamat, ‘retired hurt’ veteran takes another swing at party

The former CM was accused of attempting to engineer defections of Cong MLAs in July along with Michael Lobo. This time, he succeeded.

A similar drama played out in Goa in July, but the Congress at the time managed to avert a disaster.

The most senior of the 11 Congress MLAs in Goa, former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat on Wednesday unfurled the banner of rebellion once again and looks likely to defect to the BJP along with former Leader of Opposition Michael Lobo and six others. This comes a week after the 68-year-old scotched rumours surrounding a visit to Delhi.

A similar drama played out in Goa in July, but the Congress at the time managed to avert a disaster. But just two months later, it has suffered a 2019-style defection of two-thirds of its MLAs to the BJP. In one stroke, the pledges of loyalty that the Congress MLAs had taken in a temple, church and dargah before the Assembly elections have been rendered insincere.

In April, in a rejig, the Congress made Kamat a permanent member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s top body. Kamat, who was the Leader of Opposition in the previous Assembly, was divested of any responsibilities in the state in the Congress’s bid to promote its next generation. The move came at a time when the party appointed 38-year-old Amit Patkar the president of the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) and Michael Lobo, who joined the party ahead of the elections earlier this year, was appointed the leader of the Congress Legislature Party.

Kamat, who had been at the forefront of the Congress’s activities in Goa, took a backseat after that and described himself as “retired hurt”. He continued to maintain that until recently. He said he would be back in active politics when he is better. In an interview to The Indian Express after the political drama in July, Kamat said he was “hurt” when the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Rao labelled him and Lobo “conspirators” and accused them of trying to engineer take along six other MLAs to the BJP.

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The Congress also filed a disqualification plea against the two that is still pending before the Speaker. After the petition was filed during the previous defection episode, Kamata said, “I stayed with the party and led it from the front. This is the reward they are giving me now by filing a disqualification petition for anti-party activities. What anti-party activities? I am not able to understand. Whatever it is I will face it. Disqualification is something my lawyers will take care of. I won’t be bothered about it. Party should find out who are the people behind this. Do they want the party to progress or do they want the party to go from bad to worse?”

Kamat’s political career

Kamat started his political career as a councillor of the Margao Municipal Council from 1985 to 1990. The seven-time MLA from Margao, his fortress, Kamat has oscillated between the Congress and the BJP throughout his career. His journey began in the Congress but he joined the BJP in 1994. The following year, he became MLA for the first time.

In 2005, he reportedly brought down the Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government before returning to the Congress. Two years later, Kamat became the “compromise” choice for the post of chief minister when the party was divided between senior leaders Ravi Naik and Pratapsingh Rane. Before becoming the CM, Kamat had served as the state’s minister for power, urban development, mines and art and culture.

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His record as a chief minister was, however, chequered. Kamat was accused in a case of bribery. He was booked along with Churchill Alemao, who was the Public Works Department (PWD) minister from 2007 to 2012, under the Prevention of Corruption Act and for criminal conspiracy. The case pertained to alleged kickbacks paid by US-based company Louis Berger for a consultancy contract for a project on water augmentation and sewerage pipeline. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing the PMLA case and a court has framed charges against Kamat and Alemao. Kamat also disclosed in his poll affidavit three other cases registered against him under the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, charges have not been framed for those alleged offences.

Kamat, who also served as the mining minister for 10 years, was also indicted by a judicial commission for reportedly allowing illegal mining in the state as a result of which a few individuals amassed wealth at the cost of the environment.

He continued with the Congress even as it lost power and ahead of the Assembly elections this February, he was the party’s only remaining MLA of the 17 elected in 2017. He was the front-runner to be the next chief minister had the Congress returned to power, with Gundu Rao saying, “Everyone knows who will be the Chief Minister if the Congress forms the government.” But the BJP continued its uninterrupted run in power and formed the government for the third straight term.

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Following the defection drama in July, the Congress leadership stopped trusting Kamat and a week after the episode Sonia Gandhi, on July 17, removed Kamat as the CWC’s permanent invitee.

First published on: 14-09-2022 at 01:35:03 pm
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