Panaji: Ahead of the next month’s Goa Assembly elections, the Congress, which was hit hardest by defections in the BJP-ruled state in the last five years, made its candidates swear before God that they will not switch the party if they get elected.
The Congress on Saturday took all its 34 candidates in a special bus to a temple, a church as well as a dargah in the state and made them take the ‘anti-defection’ pledge.
Since the last election, the Congress has seen most of its legislators quitting the party. The grand old party, which had emerged as the single largest force by winning 17 seats in the 40-member House after the 2017 Assembly elections, now has only two MLAs in the House. In 2019, ten Congress legislators had joined the ruling BJP, whose current strength in the Assembly stands at 27.
“In order to build trust in the minds of people, the exercise of getting candidates swear before the God was undertaken,” Goa Pradesh Congress committee (GPCC) president Girish Chodankar said.
The candidates were taken to the Mahalaxmi temple in Panaji, a church at Bambolim and at a dargah in Betim village near the capital city.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who is party’s Goa election observer, accompanied the candidates to these religious places.
But the Congress is not the first party in the state to undertake this kind of exercise.
On January 31 last year, the Goa Forward Party (GFP) had taken its all three MLAs and office-bearers to Dev Bodgeshwar temple at Mapusa and made them take a pledge that they will not support the BJP in the 2022 state elections.
The GFP had extended its support to the Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government in 2017. The GFP MLAs were made ministers at that time. However, after the 10 Congress MLAs joined the BJP in 2019, the GFP ministers were dropped from the cabinet by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who took over the state’s reins following the death of Parrikar.
The Vijai Sardesai-led GFP had to face a backlash for supporting the BJP to form the government.
However, despite taking the oath at the Mapusa temple, one GFP legislator Jayesh Salgaonkar later shifted to the ruling BJP. He is currently the BJP’s candidate from Saligao Assembly constituency.
Recently, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is also contesting the Goa Assembly elections, had announced that its candidates will have to sign legal affidavits mentioning that they will not quit the party to join another one if they get elected.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party took the decision to stem defections as it feels that the coastal state is “notorious” for politicians jumping to other parties, an AAP leader had said.
As per a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), as many as 24 legislators in Goa, which is 60 per cent of the total strength of the state Assembly, have switched parties in the last five years.
The organisation said in its report that with these defections, Goa has set a unique record, which is “unparalleled” in the history of Indian democracy.
“In the five year tenure of the current Assembly (2017-2022), as many as 24 MLAs have changed their parties, which is 60 per cent of the total strength of the House. It has never happened anywhere else in India. It is a clear reflection of utter disrespect to the mandate of voters. A callous approach to ethics and discipline overborne by uncontrolled greed at its worst,” the report said.
Goa is going to polls on February 14.
The electoral battle in the state has become multi-cornered with the entry of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the AAP. So far, poll tie-ups have been forged between the regional MGP and the TMC, and between the Congress and the GFP. The Shiv Sena and the NCP are also contesting the elections together.
In the 2017 polls, despite winning 17 seats, the Congress could not come to power as the BJP, which had bagged 13 seats, allied with some independents and regional parties to form the government.