Eight of the 11 Congress MLAs in the Goa Assembly defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, on Wednesday.
The ruling party has succeeded in splitting the Congress twice in three years in the State, this time despite the loyalty pledges that all 37 Congress candidates took ahead of the February Assembly election in the presence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a temple, a dargah and a church vowing not to defect to other parties regardless of the poll result.
In a sudden turn of events, the coastal State witnessed another bout of political musical chairs as the eight Congress legislators — two-thirds of the party’s strength in the Assembly — moved to the BJP in a replay of the defections in 2019.
The turncoats include top leaders such as former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, former Leader of the Opposition Michael Lobo and his wife, Delilah Lobo, as well as long-time Congress loyalists like Aleixo Sequeira, Sankalp Amonkar and Rodolfo Fernandes along with Rajesh Faldessai and Kedar Naik.
The BJP, which had 20 MLAs in the 40-seat Assembly, has now increased its strength to 28, while the ruling coalition now has the support 33 MLAs, including two legislators of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and three Independents.
The Opposition is reduced to just seven MLAs — three of the Congress (Carlos Ferreira, Altone d’Costa and Yuri Alemao), one from the Goa Forward Party, two from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and one from the Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP).
Speaking to reporters at the BJP party office where the Congress rebels were officially welcomed, a jubilant Mr. Sawant, who had engineered the 2019 coup as well, said: “The Congress was undertaking a Bharat Jodo Yatra, but a Congress chhodo yatra [leave Congress yatra] is now beginning from Goa. They have joined us to take Goa’s development forward and to realise Prime Minister’s vision of a New India. I welcome all eight MLAs to the BJP.”
Stating that all eight Congressmen had joined the BJP “unconditionally”, Mr. Sawant said what had started in Goa would be soon seen across the country as Congress leaders will leave their party en masse to join the BJP.
“We are confident of winning both the Lok Sabha seats in Goa [North Goa and South Goa seats] in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. The BJP will win more than 400 seats in the general election,” Mr. Sawant said. “If anyone else wanted to join the BJP, they are welcome to join us.”
Stating that the BJP had 27 MLAs in its previous tenure and that the party’s slogan had been to achieve ‘22+ seats’ in the 2022 Goa Assembly, he observed that the BJP already had 28 MLAs (20 of its own along with the eight Congress defectors) before the end of 2022.
A major crisis within the Goa Congress was imminent after Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao had rushed to the coastal State in July to preclude a major split within the party. Mr. Rao had charged that the split was being engineered by Mr. Lobo and Mr. Kamat in coordination with the ruling BJP.
While the crisis appeared to have been averted at the time, the defections on Wednesday prove it was merely postponed.
Mr. Rao, in a tweet, lashed out against the BJP, stating: “The destruction of democratic principles is in full display in Goa. Offering huge monies, ministries and inducements, the BJP is trying to uproot the Opposition. Shameful exercise of power and money by an authoritarian establishment.”
An infuriated Mr. Rao said that the Goan public had voted for these MLAs only because they were Congress candidates who had taken oaths in temples, churches and dargahs while giving affidavits that they would not defect to the BJP come what may.
Speaking after joining the BJP, Mr. Kamat explained away his volte face by drolly quipping: “In politics, circumstances sometimes compelled one to take a hard decision. Yes, I had taken the oath in front of God not to leave the Congress. Now, I asked God what to do and He told me to decide accordingly. So, I have taken a decision in the interests of the State after looking at the work of PM Narendra Modi.”
Mr. Kamat, a seven-time MLA from Margao, was the Congress’s chief ministerial face during the Goa Assembly election held in February this year.
For Mr. Lobo and his wife Delilah, among the richest MLA couples in the coastal State, it was a homecoming to the BJP as they had both joined the Congress a few months before the February Assembly election.