New Delhi, September 14
For the second time in three years, two-thirds of the Congress lawmakers — eight out of 11 — in Goa merged with the BJP on Wednesday, taking the strength of the ruling party to 28 in a House of 40 members. The Opposition Congress stands reduced to three MLAs in the state.
The defections, led by former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and timed with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s ongoing ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, came as a jolt to the party’s revival efforts and triggered a political clash. While Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant took a swipe at Rahul Gandhi, saying the “Congress chhodo yatra” (exit the party) had begun from Goa, AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh termed the defections as “Operation Kichad” in a jibe at the “Operation Lotus” expression used to describe BJP’s expansionist moves.
“The BJP’s ‘Operation Kichad’ in Goa has been fast-tracked because of the visible success of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. The BJP is nervous. We remain undeterred. We will overcome these dirty tricks of the BJP,” said Jairam.
The defections came two months after the Congress appeared to have warded off a crisis in the state. In July, the Congress had averted a split in its legislative party after five of its 11 MLAs went incommunicado and missed a meeting presided over by AICC in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao, who accused Kamat and Michael Lobo of hobnobbing with the BJP.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi had then rushed AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik for damage control and removed Lobo as Leader of Opposition. The five missing MLAs had later attended the monsoon session of the Assembly. The relief was, however, shortlived.
These events unfolded despite the loyalty pledge the party made 36 of its candidates take on the eve of Goa elections in February this year. The candidates had vowed in a temple, dargah and a church that they would not defect. Kamat justified the switch today, saying: “I went to the temple again and asked God what to do. God told me to do whatever is best for you.”
Eight Congress MLAs who merged with the BJP today in the presence of CM Sawant and state BJP president Sadanand Shet Tanavade include Kamat, Michael Lobo, Delilah Lobo, Rajesh Phaldesai, Kedar Naik, Sankalp Amonkar, Aleixo Sequeira and Rudolf Fernandes.
Being two-thirds of the party MLAs’ strength, the defectors will escape action under the anti-defection law. In July 2019, too, 10 of the 17 Congress MLAs (two-thirds) had merged with the BJP, reducing the Congress strength to five MLAs. The Congress had later lost three more MLAs.
Veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad while recently resigning from the Congress had urged party chief Sonia Gandhi to conduct “Congress jodo exercise before Bharat Jodo Yatra.”
Meanwhile, Sawant said Congress MLAs had joined unconditionally. It remains to be seen if some defectors will get Cabinet berths in a potential future reshuffle.
Second Cong decimation in 3 years
- In July 2019, 10 of Opposition Cong’s 17 MLAs merged with the BJP
- Then too two-thirds of MLAs jumped ship, escaping anti-defection law
Backed by 33 MLAs IN ALL: Sawant
The BJP now enjoys the support of 33 MLAs (including 2 of the MGP and 3 Independents). Pramod Sawant, Goa CM
‘Bharat jodo’ made BJP nervous
BJP’s ‘Operation Kichad’ has been fast-tracked because of the visible success of ‘Bharat Jodo’. Jairam Ramesh, Congress spokesperson
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