Mumbai: About two months before the Goa assembly election, a beleaguered Congress in the coastal state has got a sudden boost with the resignation of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Milind Naik.
Naik, an MLA from Mormugao in South Goa, became the first minister in the current BJP-led Goa government who had to resign over accusations of misconduct, levelled primarily by members of the Goa Congress.
The former minister is facing allegations of sexually exploiting a woman from Bihar, with the main complainant in the matter being his direct political rival in his constituency, the Congress’s Sankalp Amonkar (the Congress leader has himself been accused of extortion and sexual harassment by the woman in question, but he has denied the charge).
Naik, who had the portfolios of social welfare and urban development, did not respond to ThePrint’s calls and text message for a comment. He tweeted Thursday evening that allegations “are always there in social life” but he has faith in the judicial process and judiciary.
Allegations and mud slings are always there in social life but keeping faith on Judicial process and Judiciary I affirm
Truth is always like a shining Sun and also Immortal.#milindsagunnaik #teammilindnaik pic.twitter.com/xvajfuCVFJ
— Milind Sagun Naik (@MilindSagunNaik) December 16, 2021
Speaking to ThePrint, Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar said: “We have been constantly exposing the wrongdoings by this government, but it has been shameless. We have exposed corruption in government jobs, in the urban development department, in the food and drugs department… the government took action only in this case.”
This case, however, is not the first time that Milind Naik has found himself in a sticky situation.
A string of controversies
Before the 2017 assembly polls, a 35-year-old woman had alleged that Naik had outraged her modesty, resulting in the Mormugao police booking him. Naik had claimed that the case was “a political gimmick”.
A Goa police officer who did not wish to be named told ThePrint that the case was closed after the election due to lack of evidence. “We called the complainant and questioned her for evidence. She said that she was under political pressure to file the case,” the officer said.
Last month, Naik was at the receiving end of graft charges by one of his own party colleagues. Carlos Almeida, BJP MLA from Vasco and a known nemesis of Naik, alleged irregularities in the restoration of the heritage Mormugao municipal council building by the Naik-headed Goa State Urban Development Authority. Naik said he was being unfairly targeted and Almeida should prove the charges.
In 2014, Milind Naik and five other BJP MLAs were embroiled in a controversy when the Goa government approved Rs 89 lakh for the six of them to attend the football World Cup in Brazil as part of a so-called study tour. The state government eventually scrapped the decision and the MLAs ended up footing their own bill.
The same year, the Goa Congress accused Naik of misusing official machinery to promote BJP events in his constituency. The state Information and Publicity Department, which was then under him, had issued a press release about an eye check-up camp that the BJP is believed to have organised in Mormugao, Naik’s constituency, in association with a trust led by him. Naik had dismissed the charge, saying the party “had nothing to do with the function”.
Naik’s slipping popularity
Naik is a three-term MLA from Mormugao and was cabinet minister twice — first in 2012 when the BJP formed a government in Goa, and the second time in 2018, when the party appointed him in place of another ailing minister.
Naik has a support base in the Bhandari community, an OBC caste that is dominant in Goa, but his hold over his constituency has been consistently slipping due to anti-incumbency and various allegations of irregularities and misconduct, local party workers from both BJP and Congress told ThePrint.
Naik’s first victory margin in 2007, when he beat the Congress’s Giovanni Vaz, was 2,406. In 2012 and 2017, it shrank to 913 and 140 votes when Naik narrowly triumphed over Sankalp Amonkar, his chief rival in the Mormugao constituency.
Twists and turns in current sexual exploitation case
The Congress first alleged last month that a minister in the Sawant cabinet was sexually exploiting a woman, but named Naik only this Wednesday, leading to his resignation hours later.
The revelation came less than a week after the woman approached police on 10 December and levelled allegations of extortion and sexual harassment at Congress leader Sankalp Amonkar and other party workers. Amonkar later told the media that the victim had turned “hostile” and was forced to file a complaint against them.
On Wednesday, Amonkar filed a complaint against Naik at the women’s police station in Panaji. He also submitted photos and videos in his possession as supposed evidence that Naik had sexually exploited the woman.
Late last month, Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar had claimed that he had incriminating photos, videos, and WhatsApp chats of a BJP minister with a woman. He also mentioned an audio clip where the minister could allegedly be heard speaking to the woman in a derogatory manner and asking her to have an abortion.
Chodankar alleged that CM Sawant was aware of this evidence and was protecting this minister. The Congress president gave the CM an ultimatum: Act against the minister within 15 days or have all the ‘evidence’ released in the public domain ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state on 19 December.
The BJP’s first formal response to the Congress was that they should name the minister if they really wanted action to be taken. The case took a turn when the woman filed her complaint against Amonkar and other South Goa Congress leaders in Bihar, claiming that they paid her Rs 10 lakh to lay a “honey trap” for the yet-unnamed BJP minister and then went on to make audio and video clips of her. Amonkar claimed that the woman had made this complaint under “political pressure”.
Late on Wednesday, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told reporters that Naik had resigned of his own accord to ensure “a free and fair investigation”.
Following Naik’s resignation, the Congress on its social media pages highlighted how the minister’s ouster was “Congress impact”.
Speaking to ThePrint, Amonkar said he is still on Naik’s trail. “There are many cases against Milind Naik and in most instances no action has been taken. I am pursuing two other cases against Naik. One is about illegal transportation of iron ore and another about his house being illegally built by partly encroaching on government land,” he added.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)