18 Sep 2022  |   05:52am IST

Is it ‘RIP Congress’ in Goa?

Earlier merger and acquisitions seem to be commonly used terms in corporate sector only. But now it is very much got into the lexicon of the politics especially in Goa. When we talk about mergers and acquisitions there’s only one party which is position to do this and doing it very aggressively is the BJP. In a span of two to three years, the defections from Congress have rocked Goa. First time defections happened in 2019 when 10 Congress MLAs joined BJP in Goa and the Leader of Opposition was spearheading it. It again happened on September 14, 2022 when eight Congress MLAs out of 11 joined BJP. The inability of Congress to even stand still and collapse like a pack of cards needs to be analysed and one can’t be only simplistic and talk about greed and corruption as the main issues. SUJAY GUPTA explores the issue of repeated defections of Congress party MLAs from a wider context in the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint
Is it ‘RIP Congress’ in Goa?

Eight Congress MLAs in Goa, including former chief minister Digambar Kamat, on Wednesday joined the ruling BJP, in a body blow to the Opposition party which is now left with just three MLAs in the 40-member state Assembly. The eight MLAs joined the BJP in presence of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and state BJP chief Sadanand Shet Tanavade.

Ironically, this defection happened just eight months after Congressmen visited a temple, a chapel and a mosque and vowed not to defect. They even signed an affidavit pledging their loyalty to the party. Now all this seems to be just a farce.

 From these developments it seems that Congress party is resting in pieces and there is a complete degeneration of the party every time one feels that the grand old party has picked itself up it again tends to crumble and goes back. The larger question also is why does BJP need to buy MLAs since it already has enough strength in the assembly? There can’t be a seller without a buyer.

Giriraj Pai Vernekar, Spokesman BJP said, “I don’t agree with the term buyer and seller. BJP didn’t need to engineer defection at this point of time. This is not happening in Goa for the first time.  It is a common perception that MLAs are dumping their parties because of BJP. This is not true.”

Vernekar said that a lot of time we get caught up in the web of morality that we create around us. One inherent question that everyone is missing is how is it different when you contest elections on ticket of one party and after winning you go to another party then when you win as part of a coalition and then align with another party after the election.

“We saw that in Maharashtra where BJP and Shiv Sena alliance won maximum seats but Congress got into the government. Nitish Kumar leaves the BJP alliance and everybody says it’s blow to BJP stop nobody lectures them on morality. I think this is double standards,” Vernekar said.

Apart from what has happened,  the other key issue here is the timing.

“Rahul Gandhi has embarked on Bharat Jodo Yatra while people from his own party have taken the message that they should join the only party which truly unites the country and that is BJP.  The Congress has a bigger question to answer. It is not that people are leaving the party just because of the BJP. Congress’s senior national leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal have also left the party,” the State BJP spokesperson said.

“Till the time Congress doesn’t realise that the problem is the Gandhis and not the BJP, we will continue to have a different political discourse,” he added.

In Goa when there was no need to have any more MLAs, why did the BJP agree to do this exercise even if it was orchestrated by the Congress?

“People often talk about constructive Opposition, but one needs to have a constructive ruling party as well. When eight elected representatives reach out to you stating that they want to move out of Congress party because of the internal problem there is nothing much ruling party can do apart from accepting it,” Vernekar said.

He said that nobody talks about why Michael Lobo was made the Congress legislative party chief in the first place when he had just left the BJP.

“So, I believe that this will strengthen our organisation’s cause. We have to also look at it from the context of 2024 elections where every vote and every seat will matter to give two seats to strengthen Prime Minister Modi’s bid for a third term,” he said.

Adv Cleofato Coutinho, a senior political analyst said that BJP’s objective from beginning has been “Congress Mukt Bharat”.

It means there will be only one party in the country and that will be BJP and the Congress will be wiped out possibly it is in that direction they’re looking possibly it is in that direction they are looking because all other parties are regional and regional parties can never challenge on National Party.

“But I don’t agree that it has not been engineered by BJP because the defections have happened for money and power. I don’t think they have gone for any other reason. Secondly on the issue of ruling party being constructive, I find as far as our country and our state particularly concerned we are sending an absolute wrong signal to the world. There are many International Studies which I’ve stated that we are losing our democracy ratings although we have a robust election system but our democratic system is collapsing,” Coutinho said.

So does the phrase “RIP Congress” fit the party? If yes, why is it so?

Agnelo Fernandes, ex-Congress MLA, said that everybody knows there’s infighting in the BJP. Everybody knows there are two people waiting to become CM. This move is part of the agenda to strengthen the incumbent chief minister and not the party.

“BJP was already having majority with more than 20 MLAs with it. BJP was always safe. It was only to strengthen the hands of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and ward off challenges from inside. As far as Congress is concerned, this happens every time,” Fernandes said.

He pointed out that Girish Chodankar is a person who can’t even win a panchayat election but he was in charge of elections in Goa twice.

“I had told the party to give tickets to honest and loyal people. The party refused saying it was important to win the elections. It was obvious that if they won they would again go back to Michael Lobo. I had said there is no way Lobo was going to stay in Congress because he had got multiple cases filed against him. The BJP was going to eventually pull him out. I had told them on January 11 which was reported by the media,” the former Congress MLA said.

He alleged that Congress in Goa has been running on money for election tickets all the eight MLAs who defected didn't get the party ticket on their merit.

“Ask Girish Chodankar what has he done for the party. So I don’t believe in ‘RIP Congress' phrase. There are people who are with Congress and are doing a good work. But how many times will people forgive Congress? It is only because of the unscrupulous elements that Congress gets maligned every time,” Fernandes said.

 After what has happened, now technically there are seven players in the Opposition camp out of the total 40 MLAs in the Assembly. Is there a feeling that for the first time we have a situation where the Opposition neither has the quantity nor the quality to play the role of checks and balances, which is so vital in a democratic system?

Political analyst Puti Gaonkar said that in India defections started from Goa in 1963 when the Dayanand Bandodkar was the chief minister.

“So, basically in Goa people are the main cause for defections. In other parts of the country if winning candidates go against them, people teach them a lesson in the next elections. Here it doesn’t happen. Therefore all politicians take Goans on a ride. Goa must have a strong Opposition. lf there is no Opposition then there won't be any control over the government and so many issues will go unchallenged,” Gaonkar said.

“I’ve been a trade unionist for last 40 years. Unfair labour practices are rampant in Goa. These kind of issues can be only taken up by a strong Opposition,” he added.

The Congress is on its last leg, unless it revives itself now. There are practically only two Opposition parties in Goa – the AAP has two MLAs, Goa Forward Party has one MLA. The point here is where will the Opposition come from? Does AAP have the capacity to regenerate itself and infuse good people in the Opposition? 

Puti Gaonkar said that in 1977 when Janata Party came to power, it started with a social movement.

“People themselves will realise in 2024 the games being played by BJP. BJP is destroying Opposition all over the country. In the recent assembly elections BJP got 33% vote share because the votes got divided. Her strong opposition will come. A main reason for people not voting against these defectors is because of their vested interests.  They expect jobs and other benefits, so they don’t vote against them,” Gaonkar said.

He added that though from the heart people are against such candidates, their own interests prevent them from acting against such elements.

Editor of Dainik Herald, Avit Bagle said that Congress has lost its credibility very badly. Their MLAs are now branded as habitual defectors.

“Congress must work to clean the party image first, then only they can think about election. It should also take into account changing trends in politics. They must bring new promising faces before people. Also party loyalists must get tickets to contest elections,” Bagle said.

He said that in earlier days, people voted for a cause. Adv Ramakant Khalap represented Mandrem constituency for 25 years being in Opposition. Now voting pattern has changed.

“Voter looks at what benefit they will get from candidate. Based on that they decide whom to vote. Days of principles have gone. Social degradation is also major cause for such development,” the Dainik Herald Editor said.

Candidates spend huge money before election, after electing as MLA one is forced to spend money for various purposes. 

“Mandrem MLA Jit Arolkar was supplying water tankers last week apartof his constituency was facing water crisis. To recover these costs one shifts towards power.  Politics has become business rather than social service,” the senior journalist said. 

Are MLAs supposed to tar the roads, build bridges or construct gutters? MLAs are elected to legislate and formulate policy decisions for the welfare of people. For undertaking civic works, responsibility can be fixed by them as it’s the job of the bureaucracy, he said.

“In Goa, Congress still has its vote share. MLAs can shift parties but loyal voters remain with the party. Question is whether Congress will succeed in regaining its credibility,” Bagle said.

It is alleged that a lot of projects get stuck since BJP government doesn’t release enough funds to  constituencies having non-BJP MLAs. How true is this charge?

Vernekar said that if one wants to see the change in the political leadership, then it has to be done by the people.

“Unless people show zero tolerance to crime records or corruption nothing is going to change. As far as development is concerned, apart from Bharat Jodo Yatra, when was the last time Congress did such a major campaign? If you reduce your MLAs to such a low level that they have to hold protest demonstrations when a family is being questioned, it sends a poor signal,” the BJP spokesperson said.

He said that political parties will always support candidates who will get elected because they are in the game to win it.

As far as release of funds is concerned, wherever there are projects happening they are being funded. But it becomes easier to get the funds when one is in the government, which is a universal fact, he added.

Adv Cleofato Coutinho said that is very easy to say that Opposition MLAs are not getting funds for development work. They are shifting for the hope of power, beat becoming a minister or chairperson of a corporation.

“I don’t think there is anything more than that. But the argument given is their constituency is not getting funds for development. I don’t buy this argument at all,” Coutinho said.

Agreeing to what Adv Coutinho said, Puti Gaonkar remarked that there has been hardly any development activity in the State in last 10 years.

“More than 150 industrial units are closed. Mining activity is shut. Has any new unit opened up in these years? Today we are moving only on casino and drugs money. There is no proper development happening because there are vested interests involved and in such a situation the issues don’t get resolved,” Gaonkar said.

He added that those who say that they are shifting for the sake of development, it is because they want to safeguard themselves and show to people that they are thinking about the constituency.

“Those who justify defection by saying development as the reason, they do so to safeguard themselves. See the condition of roads in the State. Where is the money going? The State is under a debt of more than Rs 25,000 crore. The development argument is a bogey,” he said.

Angelo Fernandes said that he was in the Opposition when he was first elected and late ManoharParrikar was the chief minister then.

“I was also under a lot of pressure to join BJP at that time, but the fact is when you have been elected as MLA of a particular party, then one must stick to it. Even constituencies under MLAs of ruling parties are not fully developed. So, development argument is just a bogey and it’s a lame excuse given to voters,” Fernandes said.

 The panchayats want to be part of the power game, irrespective of which party you go. How does one look at this issue?

Agnelo Fernandes said when he first got elected, he spent Rs 7 lakh and nobody was expecting money from him.

“No one took money from me. But now since other players have come in and money from sources like casino started flowing in, everybody is expecting Rs 2,000 to 3,000 per vote. Sometimes it is even more. These MLAs also get involved and nobody has the guts to question them. In the last election, people took money from TMC, Congress and BJP,” he alleged.

Giriraj Pai Vernekar said that a lot of development also depends on the local MLA.

“For example Carlos Almeida was Vasco MLA for two terms. But if you see the development work done by Daji Salkar in last six months, you will find a remarkable difference. I think it also depends on how much is the concerned MLA interested in taking up development work. But again, it’s not necessary that you will get elected despite being a good MLA,” he said.

Citing examples he said that Ganesh Gaonkar from Sanvordem was very approachable and did a lot of work for his constituency. The second person was Subhash Phal Desai.

“People take good governance for granted. People have to realise they should elect a candidate who will elevate the standards of the entire constituency as a whole and not just work for individuals,” Vernekar said.

Cleofato said that in some constituencies the drinking problem is very high as the MLAs promote it because of large number of people moving with him. 

“Point is that the people are also responsible because we have tolerated it for too long. The problem lies in the fact that our constituencies are very small in numbers due to the small number of voters, the stakes are high as margins for victory and defeat is very narrow,” he said.

Three MLAs of Congress,  who didn’t defect, cited self honour and pride as reasons. Will they be able to remain with the party or they will also switch sides eventually? Secondly, when you have nothing to lose you can only gain from that position. Does that mean that Congress will have the strength to do that?

Avit Bagle said that the three MLAs won’t move in the near future. The Congress's vote share will remain intact. But in next few years they have to work hard and get a credible leadership.

Giriraj Vernekar said that one has to redefine the meaning of development. “Coming to the Congress, it needs to do serious introspection. A healthy opposition is always good for the democracy and also for the ruling party as it acts as a check on its performance. But the greatest problem with Congress today is that it blames BJP for all its trouble,” he said.

But the BJP state president himself has said that had it been left to him he wouldn’t have accepted the defectors. But it was accepted on instructions from the party’s central leadership. So there seems to be a difference within the party itself.

 To this, Giriraj said that there may be differences and reservations about something within the party but once a decision is taken by the parties top leadership then everybody abides by it.

“One needs to ask this question as well that whyNo one left the BJP when it was not in power in Goa from 2007 to 2012. Whatever we have done is in the best interests of the party,” the BJP spokesperson said.

Angelo Fernandes said that the Congress MLAs taking oath in front of God was a farce. 

“When you see a signboard in a restaurant saying drugs are prohibited, one can be rest assured that there is drugs here. A normal restaurant will never put up such aboard. When they went to pledge in front of God that they won’t defect, I was sure they will shift. The Congressmen fooled the people with an affidavit when it is known that such documents don’t have any value,” he said.

He added that people are fed up now. How long they’re going to support the party where its elected representatives defect, and then come back to apologise.

“Personally I wouldn’t even think of going back to the party, especially with the current crop of leadership around,” the Former Congress MLA said.

Puti Gaonkar said unless the Congress has a strong leadership at state and national level and don't strengthen the party it will continue to struggle and people won’t have faith in it.


Iddhar Udhar