Former CM Digambar Kamat, who led the rebel MLAs along with opposition leader Michael Lobo, said they “spoke to God” before joining BJP and were advised to take an “appropriate decision”.
“I am a person who believes in God. I went back to God. I told him that these are the circumstances. What should I do? God told me to take my decision. I am with you,” said Kamat, who returned to BJP after almost 17 years.
The eight MLAs form two-thirds of the Congress legislative wing, which meets a provision in the anti-defection law that allows a split in such cases without the members needing to resign and contest elections.
The defections take NDA’s majority of 25 (20 BJP MLAs, MGP 2, Independents 3) in the Goa assembly to 33. Congress is left with three MLAs and Goa Forward Party has one. There are two AAP MLAs and one from the Revolutionary Goans Party.
The Congress MLAs’ move to join BJP has come at a time when Rahul Gandhi is leading a “Bharat Jodo” yatra.
“We have joined BJP to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Pramod Sawant… Congress chhodo, BJP ko jodo (leave Congress, strengthen BJP),” Lobo, a former BJP minister who joined Congress on the eve of the assembly elections, said.
Sawant said while Congress was busy with its “Bharat Jodo” yatra, a “Congress chhodo yatra” had begun in Goa.
“Many Congress leaders from other states will soon join BJP in the interest of the country and to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hands,” Sawant said, adding that Congress MLAs have joined BJP unconditionally, seeking only the development of the state.
The sudden turn of events took place after Lobo told Sawant on Tuesday night that in case a merger is taking place, it should be done by Wednesday as he was leaving for Kenya for 4-5 days to visit his business partner’s restaurant.
Having burned his hands in July, Lobo was categorical that he and wife Delilah would be at the assembly only if six other MLAs were present.
On Wednesday morning, while Lobo was on the way to the airport, Sawant called him and asked him to rush to the assembly to merge the Congress legislative wing with BJP. Lobo turned back and arrived at the assembly with his travel bags.
Two months ago, as first reported by TOI, there was an attempt by most of these MLAs to join BJP, but the plan fizzled out after two of them backed out at the last minute.
Speaker Ramesh Tawadkar was even stationed in the assembly the entire day on July 11 and an emissary had come from Delhi for the induction. Following this, Congress moved a disqualification petition against Kamat and Lobo, which is still pending. A letter was also submitted to the speaker withdrawing its earlier decision to make Lobo the opposition leader.
In the 2022 assembly elections, BJP secured 20 seats. It is supported by two MGP legislators and three Independents. “We had pledged to win 22 seats in 2022, but before the end of 2022, BJP has 28 MLAs,” Sawant said.
Goa has a history of defections. In 1970, Goa witnessed its first defection when five United Goans Party MLAs, who were in the opposition, joined MGP after it was reduced to a minority following seven MGP MLAs breaking away from the party. Congress has also suffered huge setbacks earlier, with groups of MLAs changing loyalties and bringing down governments in 1989 and 1999. The latest was in 2019, when 10 MLAs defected to BJP to give stability to the Pramod Sawant-led government.
Political analysts said Wednesday’s development would further strengthen BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls but carried no implication for the seven-month-old Pramod Sawant government.
Sources said the Congress MLAs appeared to be more interested in joining the saffron party to be part of the governing dispensation.
On Wednesday morning, a few hours before the “merger”, the eight Congress MLAs gathered in the chamber of the opposition leader, Michael Lobo, who held a CLP meeting and resolved to merge with BJP. Later, they handed over the letter of merger to the legislature secretary as Speaker Ramesh Tawadkar was out of station.
Following the merger, all eight MLAs officially joined BJP at its headquarters in Panaji in the presence of Sawant and BJP state president Sadanand Shet Tanavade.
Besides Kamat and Lobo, the other MLAs who joined are Aleixo Sequeira (Nuvem), Rudolf Fernandes (Santa Cruz), Michael’s wife Delilah Lobo (Siolim), Sankalp Amonkar (Mormugao), Kedar Naik (Saligao) and Rajesh Faldessai (Cumbarjua).
The three MLAs who remain with Congress are Quepem MLA Altone D Costa, Cuncolim MLA Yuri Alemao and Aldona MLA Carlos Ferreira.
All eight who defected to BJP will be flown to Delhi to meet Modi and party chief J P Nadda.