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Goa Congress to probe Lobo and Kamat for ‘engineering defections’

Michael Lobo. File

Michael Lobo. File | Photo Credit: Atish Pomburfekar

The politically volatile coastal State of Goa was buffeted yet again by winds of turbulence as the Goa Congress headed for a major split engineered by its senior leaders Michael Lobo and former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat in co-ordination with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Amid frenzied speculation since Saturday of a number of Goa Congress MLAs defecting en masse to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Goa desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao, in a late evening press conference on Sunday said that Mr. Lobo, the MLA from Calangute, had been removed from his post of Leader of Opposition in Goa Legislative Assembly while Mr. Kamat would be probed for anti-party activities by hobnobbing with the BJP.

Failed attempt

While the BJP apparently tried to poach eight of 11 Congress MLAs via Mr. Lobo and Mr. Kamat, Mr. Rao implied that the attempt had failed as the Congress still retained six of its MLAs.

“Let’s see how many will move [to the BJP] …we have six of our MLAs and are in touch with some more. But Congress will not be weakened. We will take up this issue of betrayal to the Goan people which is engineered by two people for sake of power and personal gain,” he said, accusing the BJP of using money power.

Over the weekend, political mills were buzzing overtime in the coastal State with reports of Mr. Lobo and Mr. Kamat, along with an unspecified number of Congress MLAs, planning to join the BJP. Both issued strenuous denials remarking there was no truth in these suggestions, with Mr. Lobo vehemently denying reports till Sunday.

However, Mr. Lobo’s intentions became clear when he skipped the 6.45 pm press meet at Congress House called by Mr. Rao for all 11 Congress MLAs to make a united stand in order to dispel the suggestions of a mass defection. Sources said that Mr. Lobo had reached Chief Minister Sawant’s residence late evening.

When a number of MLAs including Mr. Lobo, his wife Delilah, Mr. Kamat, Rajesh Faldessai and Kedar Naik did not turn up, the crisis within the party intensified.

Finally, addressing the press after a tense two-hour delay, Mr. Rao said it was “sad to see” someone as senior as Mr. Kamat – a seven-time MLA from Margao – whom the Congress had given so much, indulging in such “cheap, dirty and desperate politics.”

“Michael Lobo’s behaviour today has exposed what kind of a traitor and backstabber he is,” said Mr. Rao, accusing the BJP of trying to weaken the Congress in order to continue establishing their authoritarian regime in the country.

Despite his denials, there had been rumours since the February Assembly election results that Mr. Lobo, a former BJP Minister who had joined the Congress ahead of the Assembly polls, could return back to his old party along with a number of Congress MLAs and his wife Delilah Lobo.

Similar incident

Mr. Rao said that while a similar incident had happened in July 2019 (when ten Congress MLAs had defected en masse to the BJP), this time was shocking as all Congress candidates had signed affidavits before the Assembly election in February.

With the fear of a ‘domino effect’ occurring in volatile Goa following Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s revolt which was facilitated by the BJP in Maharashtra, rumours of a Congress split in Goa swirled over the weekend after Mr. Kamat - the Congress’ Chief Ministerial face before the election - reportedly ‘skipped’ a party meeting with Mr. Rao in order to visit a religious establishment. 

On Saturday, Mr. Rao, after a meeting of Congress MLAs (where everyone was present except Mr. Kamat) had said it was clear that the BJP was planting ‘defection rumours’ ahead of the Assembly Session. 

“The BJP is trying to silence the Congress’ Legislative Party (CLP) leader [Mr. Lobo] by harassing him. But the Congress will not fall prey to the BJP’s vindictive politics. Does the BJP want a one-party rule in this country? What kind of method is this, trying to decimate all opposition? The Congress never behaved like this when in power,” Mr. Rao had said. 

The BJP led by Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, along with the support of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and independents, already have a comfortable majority of 25 out of the 40 Assembly seats in the House with the BJP ‘s strength being 20 MLAs.   

Despite the Congress emerging as the single-largest party with 17 MLAs after the 2017 Assembly elections, it had failed to seize the initiative to form the government, leading the BJP — which had secured just 13 seats — to cobble an alliance with smaller regional parties such as the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). 

This setback to the Congress was followed by a major blow in 2019 when ten of its MLAs had switched allegiances to join the BJP, whittling down the party to just two MLAs — former Chief Ministers Pratapsingh Rane and Digambar Kamat. 

To preclude such an occurrence in the future and put a stop to rampant horse-trading, all 37 Congress candidates, before the February Assembly election this year, had taken loyalty pledges in the presence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a temple, dargah and a church vowing not to defect to other parties regardless of the election result. 

Meanwhile, speaking in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar quipped that he was surprised the BJP had not already managed to split the Goa Congress given that they had already toppled the MVA government in Maharashtra. 

Accusing the saffron party of trying to destroy the pillars of democracy, Mr. Pawar said: “This [alluding to ‘Operation Lotus’] has already happened in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. I am surprised it didn’t happen earlier in Goa,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 27, 2022 12:02:42 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/goa-congress-to-probe-lobo-and-kamat-for-engineering-defections/article65624581.ece