It is the latest in a series of defections from the Congress days after Rahul Gandhi kicked off a 3,700 km-long foot march to revive the party’s flagging electoral fortunes amid internal turmoil
Eight Goa Congress lawmakers joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday in the latest in a series of defections from the Opposition party days after Rahul Gandhi kicked off 3,700 km-long foot march Bharat Jodo Yatra to revive its flagging electoral fortunes amid internal turmoil.
The defections come months after a split in Congress was averted in the state In July after rebels failed to get the requisite numbers to switch to the BJP without attracting disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law. Five lawmakers members refused to join them while two others dithered.
Eight of the 17 Congress lawmakers earlier met chief minister Pramod Sawant on Wednesday after holding a meeting in the chamber of the Leader of Opposition Michael Lobo in the state assembly. They passed a resolution to “merge” their group with the BJP.
Former chief minister Digambar Kamat and Lobo led the lawmakers as they arrived at the state assembly even as the House is not in session. They have conveyed their voluntary decision to quit the Congress to Speaker Ramesh Tawadkar, who is in Delhi and expected to arrive in Goa later on Wednesday.
Lobo, who switched from the BJP to Congress prior to the assembly polls this year, said this will be the beginning of the “Congress Chhodo, BJP Jodo [leave Congress, join BJP]” yatra in the country in a dig at Gandhi’s march.
“We have joined the BJP to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Pramod Sawant so that development works can be carried out in all constituencies. The Congress has commenced a Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. We have in Goa started the Congress Chhodo and BJP Jodo and we are doing this only to take forward the vision of the Prime Minister and to strengthen Sawant,” Lobo said.
He said they held a meeting of the Congress legislative party and took the decision to merge with the BJP. “A resolution was moved …after signing the resolution, it was taken to the legislature secretary and one copy was sent to the chief minister. We are merging with the BJP. Intimation has been sent to the Speaker. We have spoken on the phone, sent him an email and fax is also being sent. And his reply is expected immediately,” Lobo said.
Kamat accused Congress of ignoring him and denying him the post of the leader of the Opposition. “I said that what was happening in the Congress was not right. And when Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned and wrote a letter…if you read it, you will be able to draw your conclusions that instead of a Bharat Jodo Yatra, there needs to be a Congress Jodo Yatra,” Kamat said.
Congress has over the years lost power in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka following defections. Former Union minister Azad quit the party last month blaming the party’s functioning and Gandhi for demolishing consultative mechanisms. The exit came ahead of the election to elect a new Congress president and Bharat Jodo Yatra. Azad was the latest in a series of senior leaders, who have left the party. He was a member group of 23 leaders, who wrote to party chief Sonia Gandhi in 2020 demanding internal reforms.
Sawant said the eight joined the BJP for development and to help Modi build a new India. “They have supported us and I welcome them. This is a historic decision,” Sawant said.
The BJP has 20 members in the 40-member state assembly. It is one short of the majority on its own and has the backing of three independent and two Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party legislators.
People aware of the matter said Kamat and Lobo’s efforts to win over more lawmakers continued after July and are believed to have travelled to Delhi to discuss the defection with BJP’s top leadership. Lobo last month visited Delhi and later claimed he was there to take part in the Congress protest against price rise and inflation even though he was not seen there. Kamat too denied reports about travelling to Delhi. But local media published a passenger list that showed Kamat having booked a ticket to Delhi. It was not known whether Kamat actually flew to Delhi.
The Congress’s plea for disqualifying Kamat and Lobo for colluding with the BJP to break the Congress following the attempt to split the party in July is pending with Tawadkar.
Goa has a history of defections and a record of having 13 chief ministers in 12 years between 1989 and 2000. Ten Congress lawmakers defected to the BJP during the previous term of the state assembly. As many as 27 lawmakers quit the parties on whose tickets they were elected on.
Candidates of the Congress and its ally Goa Forward Party, who contested this year’s assembly polls in the state, signed affidavits pledging against switching sides to the BJP after they are elected. The oaths were pronounced in the presence of Gandhi and also in a temple, church, and mosque.