Panaji: Barely two months after the Congress seemed to have staved off a defection bid, eight of its 11 MLAs led by top leaders Digambar Kamat and Michael Lobo joined the ruling BJP today, with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant welcoming them. Since the MLAs have two thirds of the party strength, they can avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law.
This morning, the MLAs’ meeting with the Speaker set off the speculations as the assembly is not in session. State BJP chief Sadanand Shet Tanavade then said they are joining the party.
Yet, the latest defection wasn’t entirely unexpected, even though in July the Congress managed to keep at least seven of its MLAs with it. There was no final move by the four others, including — besides Mr Lobo and Mr Kamat — Kedar Naik and Delilah Lobo, Mr Lobo’s wife.
Senior leader Mukul Wasnik had been deputed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to handle the crisis, and he appeared to have stopped it.
Or not really, going by what’s happened today.
The defection comes when the Congress is holding a Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March), led by Rahul Gandhi, while the BJP has been taking jibes: “Unite your party first.”
A Congress ally, Goa Forward Party chief Vijai Sardesai reacted with scorn, saying the defecting MLAs are “symbols of pure evil” who are pursuing “greed for wealth and hunger for power… in defiance of Almighty God”.
Digambar Kamat and Michael Lobo were at the centre of the switchover speculation in July too, and the Congress had even asked the speaker to disqualify them under the anti-defection law. It announced to remove Michael Lobo as Leader of Opposition, but no replacement was named.
At the time, Mr Kamat, a former chief minister, had said he was “shocked and stunned” at the allegations of leading a division. Even Michael Lobo, who was in the BJP before joining the Congress ahead of elections earlier this year, had claimed there was “no talk of any division”.
Goa Congress splintered in a similar fashion in 2019, when two thirds of its assembly strength — 10 of 15 MLAs — defected to the BJP, which is why the party this year made its candidates take a loyalty vow.
In the Goa Vidhan Sabha, the BJP already has a majority of 25 in the House of 40 — 20 MLAs of its own, plus two from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, and three independents. This will go up to 33 once eight from the Congress come in. The Congress will have three left now, besides support of one MLA of Goa Forward Party. The AAP has two MLAs and the Revolutionary Goans Party has one.