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'Congress is not afraid of BJP poachers'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
March 10, 2022 07:34 IST
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'This is a new Congress. Let the BJP be warned.'

Former Goa chief minister and senior Congress leader Digambar Kamat, who celebrated his 68th birthday on March 8, tells Rediff.com that his party was not afraid of poachers from the Bharatiya Janata Party, but the Congress will take all necessary precautions to stave off the BJP's poaching efforts.

The BJP and Congress are predicted to be in a neck-and-neck contest in Goa according to most exit polls.

Kamat was responding to news reports that the Congress had asked all its 37 assembly candidated contestants to huddle together in a north Goa resort to prevent their poaching from the BJP.

"I was celebrating my 68th birthday on March 8 and so had invited all of them for the celebrations," Kamat tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com, exuding confidence that the BJP, even if it attempts to, will not succeed in poaching even one MLA from Congress.

"The Congress, in alliance with the Goa Forward Party, will win a comprehensive victory," he adds.

Goa Congress Pradesh Committee president Girish Chodankar confirms that all the Congress candidates had left the resort on Wednesday morning after celebrating Kamat's birthday.

Fifteen of the 17 MLAs who had won on the Congress ticket in 2017 quit the party between 2017 and 2022 following its failure to cobble together a government in the state, leaving the party with just two MLAs as it prepared for the assembly election on February 14, 2022.

All 37 Congress contestants and three Goa Forward Party candidates had on February 4 publicly pledged on the Constitution, in the presence of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, that they will not resign or defect to another political party if they were elected as Congress legislators.

"This is a new Congress. Let the BJP be warned. We did not pressurise anybody to come. Everybody wanted to be together and have a good time before hectic times ahead so we all came together," says Chodankar.

When asked about reports of former Congress leader Vishwajit Rane -- who had quit the Congress to join the BJP after getting elected from Valpoi in 2017 and was later inducted as a minister in the state -- trying to send offers to Congress candidates, Chodankar says, "Nobody knows where (in which party) Vishawjit Rane will be after the verdict. Now also, we don't know in which party he is. Wherever there is power, he will be there."

"Don't trust the exit polls. They are all humbug," says Goa Congress Forward Party president Vijai Sardesai. "There will be a clear cut majority for Congress-GFP."

"The people of Goa want all the BJP policies to be reversed," adds Sardesai, also an ex-deputy chief minister.

Asked if he feared poaching of his two MLA contestants if they won, he says, "Nobody will touch my people. The BJP is scared of me, they don't have the guts."

"There is no question of succumbing to any pressure (from central investigation agencies). I am a person who has stood up against many forces and defeated the Congress and BJP together in two elections. Nobody can pressurise me," Sardesai says.

When asked if the GFP got feelers from the BJP, even as Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party leader Sudin Madhav Dhavalikar claimed that both Congress and BJP nominees are in touch with him, Sardesai says, "I am in a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. There is no question of a rethink."

"He (Dhavalikar) was ditched by his MLAs and BJP in the last election so he has his own compulsions. He has said he is fighting his last election. But I am not fighting my last election," Sardesai adds.

After the 2017 election, the BJP had split the three-member MGP following which two of its MLAs joined the BJP and were inducted into the BJP giving it a simple majority in the 40-member House.

Sudin Dhavalikar, who has been on record saying that both the Congress and BJP had approached him, was non-committal if the MGP, which has fought the 2022 assembly election in alliance with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, would join hands with the BJP, the TMC's arch enemy in West Bengal.

"I am in touch with the TMC (on the issue of whom to support in case of a hung assembly) and we will take a call together by 4 pm," Dhavalikar tells Rediff.com.

Dhavalikar says the MGP will win at least 10 seats on its own and could even throw its hat in the ring to form the next government in the state. "We joined hands with the TMC to offer an alternative to the people of Goa and the people this time have voted for parivartan (change)."

Asked if the MGP was categorical that it would not support the BJP, Dhavalikar would only say, "It is the people who will decide. We will sit together with the TMC and decide the next course of action. We want people of Goa to enjoy good governance."

Photograph: PTI Photo

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