If the press conference by the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president and Congress MLA Clafacio Dias was meant to be an exercise at damage control, the party failed at it.
Whatever the denial that has been made, the cat is now fully out of the bag. Crossing political sides usually happens on the quiet, we have seen it happen in the dead of night, but when Dias decided that he has to consult his supporters on the possibility of his joining the Bharatiya Janata Party, it no longer remained a secret. He met his supporters in the constituency and asked them to help him decide whether he should quit the Congress and join the BJP. The bigger revelation, however, that came from Dias is that four other Congress MLAs are waiting to join BJP.
The next day he denied the plans to quit the Congress, but there is rarely any smoke without fire. He has now announced that there is no offer from the other party and that he will stay with the Congress, but reports indicate that at the meeting his argument is that it is not possible to satisfy unemployed youth with government jobs by being in the opposition, or even get projects. This in fact was reiterated by GPCC president Girish Chodankar who said that development works are being blocked, and Dias himself admitted that he cannot arrange for government jobs for his constituents.
The speculation that there may be a slew of Congress MLAs seeking to hitch their political rides with the BJP bandwagon have been making the rounds for the past few days, ever since the results of the Lok Sabha elections and the by-elections to four Assembly constituencies, which went in favour of the Congress were announced. Dias is the first Congress MLA to come out openly about such a plan, which gives credence to the speculation, as none of the other oppositon MLAs had publicly voiced the possibility of joining the governing party. On the other hand they have denied it repeaptedly.
The possibility of further defections to the BJP exists, and this has been admitted by the Congress itself. Chodankar has said, he can’t stop any MLA from quitting and joining other parties, and has also not ruled out the possibility of more MLAs quitting the party and joining the BJP. This statement is an admission of a party’s weakness, of giving up on their MLAs, and having no hold over those who were elected on their symbol. Congress today is in a sorry state in Goa. Since the 2017 election, three Congress MLAs have defected to the BJP. Congress had been the single largest party on declaration of results, but defections have sent it to second place, behind the BJP that has increased its tally from 13 to 17. If, as speculated, four more MLAs do quit the party, Congress will just manage to hold to the double digit figure in the Assembly.
The victories of Congress defectors Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte, and earlier Vishwajit Rane, who were re-elected on BJP tickets, has perhaps spurred the other as yet unnamed Congress MLAs who may be considering the jump from the opposition benches across the well of the House to the treasury benches. The reward of re-election bestowed by the electorate to the two Congress MLAs who quit the party in October last year has surely emboldened the MLAs who may be considering a defection.
Congress needs to regroup if it expects to play the role of a constructive opposition in the Assembly. The Congress State leadership has failed to convince the MLAs and the workers that the party has a bright future in Goa. For a party that has in the past held the reins of power in the State, and emerged as the single largest party in 2017, the current morass it has settled into does not inspire confidence.