Congress' Goa in-charge Dinesh Rao did not spare words in slamming the eight defectors on a day of introspection on Thursday. In line with the bravado shown by Aldona constituency MLA Carlos Alvares and Cuncolim MLA Yuri Alemao, Rao stated that the party would use this setback as a springboard to bounce back. He heaped scorn at defectors and recalled the vows taken in temples, churches and dargah, the affidavits, and the pledges on the Constitution.
In January 2022, when Congress leadership went overboard to erase the horrible memories of the 2019 defection by taking its flock to places of worship, it was evident that it was desperately trying to salvage the dented reputation of being a party of defectors. They tried every trick in the book to get the attention of voters. Back then, we were the first to question these meaningless vow ceremonies that had no legal standing. Rao knew it as much as the party's high command and all those who played their part in the great anti-defection tamasha. It was so artificial and surreal, yet everyone played along, and leaders like Rao and P Chidambaram backed it to the hilt giving new hopes.
On Wednesday, September 14, our worst fears came true, and all the promises and pledges were relegated to nothing. Defecting legislators dared to even mock those godly promises by giving them imaginative and disrespectful interpretations. Politically speaking, playing that religious card was only a conscious attempt by the Congress leadership to, on the one hand, salvage its position, and two, to use it as a humiliatory tool to pre-empt further defections. An experiment on anti-defection by using religion as a shield could never be a foil, given the power politics that was playing on the electoral turf. Goan leaders are devout, pious, religious, and all, but in the same vein, some have exhibited megalomania. In recent times, the hunger for power and money has been so overwhelming and supreme that selfish leaders have always succeeded in finding ways and means to circumvent obstacles.
Congress needs to introspect on where the party is failing or how to stem this rot rather than focus on BJP's brutal ways. As much as fingers are pointed at defectors, Rao and Co must take the blame for not living in the reality of Goan politics. The leadership must accept failure in screening candidates, studying backgrounds and evaluating each one on merit, besides groundwork and affiliation. A cursory glance at the list of defectors exposes the fact that those who were aligned with the BJP earlier or who had earlier fallen out of the saffron ranks have only done a 'ghar whapsi'. The bottom line is that Congress, showing helplessness at this stage, had miserably failed to find the right balance and relied on opportunism. Getting BJP dropouts and picking them ahead of the party cadre creates a shaky foundation, to begin with. Congress made this so easy and manageable for the BJP because at least four of the eight defectors were from the BJP ranks.
Rao's words of starting all over again on a clean slate may be comforting to the Congressmen, especially for those in waiting. "The garbage is gone. We will not give up, but we will go back and win the hearts of people. Our approach will be different, and fresh blood will be infused along with seniors," said Rao. The question is whether the patience and confidence of the electorate have been already lost.
Congress is known to work sluggishly, right through the hierarchy, which has hurt the party at the hustings. The party's failure to act against Michael Lobo and allow him the liberty of the CLP chair without expulsion is baffling. No action was forthcoming on any of the rebels despite several attempts to jump ship. Rao's tough talk was not enough; there was action needed.
The eight defectors have been facing the flak for ditching their party against all assurances, and rightly so. But, the Congress high command, including Rao and P Chidambaram, cannot run away from the responsibility they shouldered. The Congress needed a hard-headed direction to counter BJP's power politics.