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Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

High drama in Goa amid talk of Cong MLAs walking over to BJP

AICC Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao holds meetings with Cong MLAs amid speculation of eight legislators joining BJP

By Sunday afternoon, as the Congress MLAs began to trickle into the Margao hotel for a meeting with Rao, speculation that eight MLAs were switching over to the BJP gathered steam. (Source: Twitter/@dineshgrao)

Exactly three years after two-thirds of its MLAs walked over to the BJP, the Congress was gripped with what it dismissed as “rumours” of a similar defection.

On Sunday, the Congress gathered its MLAs at a hotel in Margao at a time when speculation was rife that the party would splinter once again with some of its MLAs wanting to move to the treasury benches of the 40-member Goa legislative Assembly. Sunday was the second day of meetings that AICC Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao held with Congress party MLAs. On Saturday, the Congress’s 11 MLAs had met Rao in Panaji — ostensibly to guide the party’s eight first-time MLAs ahead of the legislative Assembly session beginning Monday — and asserted that the party was intact, scotching rumours of turmoil in its ranks and ruling out defections.

However, by Sunday afternoon, as the Congress MLAs began to trickle into the Margao hotel for a meeting with Rao, speculation that eight MLAs were switching over to the BJP gathered steam. What fuelled the speculation was the fact that only three of the 11 MLAs showed up at the hotel. By evening, however, that count had gone up to seven MLAs. Congress leaders also held a meeting with senior legislator and former chief minister Digambar Kamat at his residence.

Amid the feverish speculation, some part of the drama also played out in the Assembly, where the Speaker of the Goa legislative Assembly, Ramesh Tawadkar, was in office. He said he was in the Assembly on a weekend 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”.

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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.

While this transpired in the Assembly in Porvorim, North Goa, in the South, more Congress MLAs, including Leader of Opposition Micheal Lobo, turned up for the meeting with Rao.

Dismissing talk of the defections as “rumours created by the BJP”, Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Amit Patkar said, “See what the BJP has done in Maharashtra. They don’t want any opposition. They are always trying to split (opposition parties). Nationally, the Congress is the only party that can fight the BJP and that is why they keep targeting the Congress.”

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With seven MLAs turning up for the meeting with Rao, Patkar said the others would also join them. He said Delilah Lobo, Congress MLA and wife of Leader of Opposition Micheal Lobo, was told not to come since she would have to travel a long distance from Siolim to Margao.

Speaking to The Indian Express on Sunday morning, Lobo, a former minister in the previous BJP government led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, said, “Nobody has approached me and there is no thought on these lines (defection).”

Three years ago, on July 10, 2019, the Congress suffered a major jolt when 10 of its 15 legislators – two-thirds – defected to the BJP in Goa. It was this incident that prompted the Congress to get its 37 election candidates to take a ‘pledge of loyalty’ ahead of the Assembly elections in Goa. 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.

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“Of our 11 MLAs, eight are new and I have said this repeatedly: none of our new MLAs will go anywhere. The rumour-mongering is to send a wrong message to people that the party is going to split. These tactics are going on,” Patkar said.

A GPCC office-bearer said, “I can say this with full responsibility that there will be no defections like in 2019. If someone wants to resign and contest elections again, we cannot stop them but then again, winning an election is not so simple in Goa.”

Speculation was rife that former CM Kamat and Lobo were part of the eight MLAs allegedly being wooed by the BJP. Political observers said the BJP could be laying the groundwork in South Goa for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Of the two parliamentary seats in Goa, the BJP had lost South Goa in 2019 to the Congress. The Congress has five MLAs in South Goa.

Goa BJP president Sadanand Tanavade said, “We have received no information about this (Congress MLAs joining BJP).We are not involved in any of these things. No one has come to us and when they do, we will inform everybody.”

Asked if the BJP’s doors were open to possible defections from the Congress, he said, “Politically, a party always has to keep its doors open. How can we keep them closed?”

First published on: 10-07-2022 at 08:11:23 pm
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