Congress MLAs in Goa have done it again. Oaths before religious places have been thrown to the winds; promises to the electorate, in the garbage bins. At a time when the party is on a country-wide yatra to win back public support, in Goa, mustering up a two-third strength, eight Congress MLAs have jumped ship. It was all in a morning’s work for them. Yet, the move was not entirely unexpected. So where was the party leadership when its MLAs were plotting to change colours?
All through these past months, it has been a very open secret that such a changeover was in the offing. It was but a matter of time before the MLAs made their move. They had also attempted one such in the past. In July, when speculation of an imminent defection had reached a feverish point, Congress had acted quickly and stemmed the horse-trading. But two months later, there appears to have been no such effort made by the party. If there was any such, it was not visible.
Has the party that had just two months ago displayed unaccustomed gumption to rein in its flock, turned impotent so very suddenly? At that time, Congress leader Mukul Wasnik who had airdashed to Goa to handle the crisis had said, “Congress MLAs have set an example for the country on how to foil the illegitimate attempts of the BJP to poach Congress legislators.” What happened now? What’s the example that is now being set?
A former Congress chief minister Digambar Kamat, a former Congress leader of the opposition Michael Lobo, a former Congress minister Aleixo Sequeira and five first-time MLAs have quit the party and joined the BJP. May one ask, what was the criteria followed by the party for ticket distribution in the 2022 election? Was there any criteria other than the axiomatic “winnability” factor? The defections indicate poor understanding on the part of the leaders who decide at the Central level on who should get party tickets for the elections. Michael and Delilah Lobo, and Kedar Naik joined the Congress this January, a month before the elections.
For Kamat, the Lobos and Naik, this is a homecoming, as they all once belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the Lobos and Naik have been with the Congress for just a few months, Kamat on the other hand has been with the Congress since January 2005. He had held at that time the number two position in the Manohar Parrikar cabinet but quit the Bharatiya Janata Party and crossed over to the Congress. Now, 17 years later, the man who has represented Margao for a quarter of a century has returned to the BJP, the party on whose ticket he was first elected. That, however, is not to say that BJP was his first party. It was in the Congress that he cut his political teeth, and he switched over to the BJP in 1994, when he was denied a ticket by the Congress. He contested on the lotus symbol and won. So in a manner of speaking, Kamat has had two homecomings – in 2005 to the Congress, where two years later he was rewarded as chief minister, and now back to the BJP, where perhaps another big reward awaits him. We do not yet know what, but there is no harm in speculating.
But in these homecomings there has been a betrayal of voters; in the case of Margao voters, not once, but twice. Fortunately for Kamat, he does not have to contest a by-election this time, so he does not face the uncertainty of a failed political future. Unfortunately for the electorate, they cannot register their anger at the defection via the ballot as the MLAs have won the number game to avoid going back to the people.
Speculation of Kamat joining the BJP had been going on since March of 2019. There was a time when every trip he made to Delhi was seen as one to meet with the BJP leadership and return to the party. He denied it all quite loudly and vociferously.
But in the last few weeks, when speculation of a floor crossing resumed, he played around with words, never making a firm denial, but speaking of being hurt. In the previous term, Kamat had stood like the Rock of Gibraltar. In fact, he had been the only Congress MLA who won in 2017 to contest on a ticket of the same party in 2022. And then, on being re-elected, he defected.
One would like to believe that it cannot get worse for the Congress in Goa, but given the open stable doors of the party, one can just never tell what could happen next. When will the party learn to bolt the gate and secure its MLAs, even if there now remain just three MLAs in the party? We cannot forget that Kamat was the last man standing on the Congress ship early this year.
Goan politics touches another nadir. Just how much lower can the politicians fall with their shenanigans?
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)