Goa Congress leader Girish Chodankar has admitted that his party was facing a “trust deficit” among voters in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled coastal state due to defections in its legislative unit in the last couple of years.
In an interview to PTI, Chodankar, who headed the state unit of the Congress till its dismal performance in the Assembly polls last year, said defections were a “bigger disease” and the victim was not just the grand old party in Goa as such things were happening in other parts of the country as well.
In the February 2022 Assembly elections in Goa, the BJP won 20 seats, an improvement from its 2017 performance when it had clinched 13 seats in the 40-member House. The Congress could bag 11 seats last year, down from 17 it had won in the previous election. In September last year – months after the results – eight out of the 11 Congress MLAs defected to the ruling BJP. In 2019, as many as 10 Congress legislators had merged their rebel group with the saffron party.
Before the last year’s Assembly polls, Congress had made all its 37 candidates take a pledge of party loyalty by taking them to various places of religious worship. The party, however, failed to stop the defections.
Chodankar, who has moved the court for disqualification of these eight MLAs, who include former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat, spoke about what ails the Congress in the tiny state.
“Congress is facing a trust deficit among voters in Goa. The party faces a huge challenge of regaining the trust of voters and rebuilding the party,” he said.
“Defections is a bigger disease and the victim is not just the Congress. This is happening not just in Goa but in many parts of the country. BJP is desperate for power and doesn’t want the opposition to get any space in the entire country. They are using money and muscle power, authority to crush the opposition,” he alleged.
Chodankar, who had resigned as the state Congress chief taking moral responsibility of the party’s poor performance in the last election, claimed that the BJP posed the biggest threat to the Congress.
“Congress has a pan-India presence. The target is to destroy the Congress which is equal to destroying the opposition. Defectors are offered money and positions. Once they switch sides, they have no respect in the society and they repent. Most of the MLAs who defected in 2019 or earlier lost,” he claimed.
Chodankar said he was surprised and shocked that the eight newly-elected MLAs fell prey to money.
“In the name of development they have cheated even god and hurt the confidence and trust of people,” he charged.
The newly-elected MLAs last year took an oath, signed affidavits saying they will not defect and visited religious places (to take oath of loyalty). But they don’t have the fear of god. They have cheated god and played with the sentiments of people. God is ultimate for the faithful, he added.
“There is a trust deficit and the victim is the Congress party. We are victims and also the accused. We are targeted by voters that our MLAs defect after winning. Why should people trust us. The question is…Will we allow BJP to fulfil its agenda which is to create frustration among voters who are not with them. Their supporters are happy because their ideology is getting strengthened,” he said.
Chodankar lamented that ideology for defectors in money and power.
On being asked why the Congress could not cash in on the anti-incumbency of the state government and give a fresh leadership, he said the party fielded new and young faces.
“It’s tragic that they, too, ditched,” he said.
He admitted that his party could not counter the anti-incumbency because the BJP brought various parties to Goa to split Congress votes.
“BJP has taken over the entire leadership of the state Congress. They pressured our senior leader Pratapsinh Rane not to contest. But despite the troubles, our vote share was intact at 25 per cent as compared to 28 per cent last time,” he said.
According to him, the Congress lost its traditional 1.5 lakh votes to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Revolutionary Goans.
The Revolutionary Goans took away 60,000 to 70,000 votes of the grand old party, he claimed.
“We failed to convince voters not to stay away from those who split votes. We lost 10 seats by a margin of less than 2,000 votes. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant won by 300 votes,” he said.
To a query on what is the road ahead for the Congress, Chodankar said the party can come back only by retaining the partymen and voters.
“Retain old strength. Make people, who are not active in the party, get involved in its activities. There is a lot of anger against us, including against me as I was leading the state unit, from the voters and also from the party, due to defections. We have to build fresh leadership with ideological connect,” he said.
The party needs to give confidence to people by aggressively exposing the BJP government, become the voice of the people and give such representatives to people who can be trusted.
“Despite pressure, three Congress MLAs have not defected. Their image in the eyes of the public is high,” he said.
Read all the Latest Politics News here
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)