All is not well within the Congress party in Goa as the state leadership struggles to keep its flock together.
After rumours of at least eight party MLAs jumping ship to the BJP emerged on Sunday, 10 July, Congress leadership pressed the panic button and accused former chief minister Digambar Kamat and legislature party leader Michael Lobo of "hatching a conspiracy" to break the Congress.
Lobo was subsequently removed from the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Goa Assembly.
In a press conference addressed in the presence of six out of its 11 Congress MLAs in the state, AICC desk in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao while referring to Kamat and Lobo said, "There was a conspiracy that was hatched by two of our own leaders who were hobnobbing with the BJP to see that the Congress party is weakened and to engineer a split."
'Shocked, Stunned, and Humiliated,' Kamat and Lobo Refute Allegations
Refuting allegations levelled against them by Gundu Rao, both Kamat and Lobo have come out to say that they still stand with the Congress party.
"I have seen the video of the press conference of Dinesh Gundu Rao which was circulated. I am shocked, stunned and it has hurt me beyond words,” Kamat said.
Emphasising that he "strongly" stands with the Congress, Lobo on the other hand claimed that he himself wanted to be relieved from the post of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) chief.
“We won on the Congress ticket and we are with the Congress party. I told Dinesh Gundu Rao that I am not interested in continuing as leader of Opposition because there are various issues raised on me by the ruling side. I said senior leader Digambar Kamat is there or you can give it to someone else,” he said.
Sources, however, have told The Quint that both Lobo and Kamat are not talking about the rebellion in open because they failed to gather the two-third majority required to flout the anti-defection law.
The Quint has learnt that after the party leadership was alerted of the rebellion, they were able to establish contact with six MLAs. The five who went incommunicado are: Michael Lobo, Digambar Kamat, Kedar Naik, Rajesh Faldesai and Delilah Lobo.
The Congress has now petitioned the Speaker of the Assembly to disqualify both Kamat and Lobo under the anti-defection law.
A Self-Made Crisis
The Congress party seems to have hardly learnt any lessons from the past. In 2019, 10 out of 15 MLAs of the grand old party jumped ship to the BJP. This reduced Congress to just 5 seats in the Assembly despite emerging as the single largest party in the elections.
In a bizarre move, ahead of the February elections, all Congress candidates were made to pledge their loyalty to the party at three religious institutions; a temple, a church and a mosque. They also signed an anti-defection affidavit.
The BJP won 20 out of these 40 seats in these elections. Interestingly, 11 of the candidates who emerged victorious were imports from the Congress and other regional parties who switched sides earlier.
Despite frequent defections, the Congress has failed to device a strategy to keep its flock together. Reliable sources close to the party have told The Quint that Kamat was highly unpopular among other party leaders and despite that was trusted with the position of LoP and running the campaign for the state Assembly elections.
Party leader Elvis Gomes also took to Twitter to claim how former Congress Goa chief Girish Chodankar allowed Kamat to sabotage the Congress election campaign.
The party high command has now rushed MP Mukul Wasnik to look into the crisis at hand.
'BJP is Congress, Congress is BJP': AAP, TMC React
Reacting to the reports, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have accused both the BJP and the Congress of "betraying" the people of Goa.
Taking to Twitter, AAP MP Raghav Chaddha said, "Voting for Congress = Voting for BJP What we said in a press conference an year ago is becoming a reality today."
Taking a dig at the Congress party, Amit Palekar, party's Goa state President also said that unlike others, AAP MLAs cannot be bought "Even if the BJP purchases all opposition MLAs, AAP cannot be bought. A mere two (MLA of AAP) of them will act as the voice of opposition."
Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien also took to Twitter saying that the TMC will stand by the people of Goa.
In the 2022 Assembly elections AAP won two seats with a vote share of 6.8% whereas the TMC with a vote share of 5.2% did not win a single seat.