Mumbai: Decimated by its legislators jumping to other parties, the Congress in Goa has made a public vow not to admit a single defector into the party, and to end the practice of constant defections in the politics of the coastal state.
With about two months to go before the Goa assembly election, the state unit of the Congress has released a list of broad promises to the people of the state, including a pledge to “put an end to the virus of defection in Goa”. The party, in a statement on its social media handles Sunday, also said, “We will never let the defectors re-enter Congress party.”
— Goa Congress (@INCGoa) December 26, 2021
This promise came just four days after a sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA resigned and joined the Congress.
Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar told ThePrint, “Defection has been a way of life in Goa politics. But, once your voters elect you on a particular party symbol, it is not right to shift parties just for the sake of power. It is not right to sell your voters like that. That is why for the first time in Goa, the Congress has taken this bold decision.”
While defections are common across states before elections, they’re particularly rife in Goa, where the constituencies are small and politics is dominated by personalities rather than parties.
Over the past five years, the Congress has especially been stung by defections in Goa. In the 2017 assembly election, it had emerged as the single largest party with 17 MLAs in the 40-member house.
However, the BJP cobbled together an alliance with Goa’s regional outfits — the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP) — and pipped the Congress to form a government.
As of today, the Congress is left with just two MLAs in Goa.
Moreover, in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, nine MLAs — more than a fifth of the total strength of the house — have changed their political alignments in the past three months. This includes the BJP MLA who resigned and joined the Congress last week — two-time Vasco MLA Carlos Almeida.
Almeida said he resigned because his former party was no longer the organisation it had been when former BJP Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was alive.
Chodankar, meanwhile, said Almeida’s joining the Congress was different from other defections.
“This is election time. Many people may not follow ideologies. People may shift only for the sake of power without any other reason in the name of development for the purpose of self-glorification and self-achievement,” he added.
“But there are also many who are hurt by what the BJP has done. There are politicians who want to shift because they believe in our ideology. We don’t have a problem with them. Carlos Almeida is not a defector. He completed his term with the BJP and he will face the electorate now,” Chodankar added.
‘Congress has always been a victim of defections’
In the past, Congress has toppled a government with the help of defectors at least once, and has also been spurned by its own leaders who staged coups against governments led by the party.
For instance, in 1991, the Congress ousted a coalition government led by the MGP by inducting Ravi Naik and six other legislators, and giving Naik the chief minister’s post.
In 1999, the Luizinho Faleiro-led Congress government, which had come to power with a rare majority of 21 seats in the 40-member assembly, was toppled within five months.
Fellow party leader Francisco Sardinha, who had chief ministerial ambitions, broke away from the Congress with 10 other MLAs, formed a separate party, and joined hands with the BJP to form a government with himself at the helm.
The Sardinha government lasted just 11 months as nine Congress members, including Naik, who was then the leader of the Opposition, joined the BJP to help the party form a government led by the latter party. Naik was rewarded with the post of deputy CM to Parrikar in his first stint as Goa CM.
Sardinha and Naik eventually returned to the Congress fold. Naik, who was elected as a Congress MLA in 2017, resigned earlier this month and joined the BJP.
Chodankar maintains that the Congress has always been a “victim of defections in Goa”, especially so in the state’s more recent political history.
In 2017, when the Congress had emerged as the single largest party with 17 seats, Vishwajit Rane, then a Congress MLA, resigned almost immediately after the polls, walking out of the floor test in March 2017, and joining the BJP the following month. He was eventually re-elected as a BJP MLA in a bypoll.
Over the next four years, 12 more MLAs joined the BJP, the latest being former CM Ravi Naik. Two others — Luizinho Faleiro and Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco — joined the Trinamool Congress, shrinking the Congress’s strength in the house to two MLAs.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)